Death of a Salesman

Key ingredient is an uncommonly energetic take on the principal role from Jeffrey DeMunn.

Willy Loman - Jeffrey DeMunn
Linda - Robin Moseley
Biff - Lucas Caleb
Rooney Happy - Tyler Pierce

In “Death of a Salesman,” the Lomans’ Brooklyn home — their foundation, the only solid thing they’ve managed to establish in the earth — is as much a central character as Willy himself. Any fears of losing that physical touchstone in an arena staging are quickly dispelled, as designer Marion Williams and helmer Pam MacKinnon’s ingenious choices actually immerse us more deeply into Willy’s chaotic universe than many a proscenium production. Key ingredient is an uncommonly energetic take on the principal role from Jeffrey DeMunn.

Worn, stripped doors and window units appear just long enough to convey strength eroded by time and worry. That impression lingers when the frames disappear, revealing an array of platforms at varying depths connected by steps, layered like an archaeological dig.

Here’s the beauty of theater in the round. Shrewd use of audience aisles create the sense of a living organism, or at least a beehive of sensory impressions, as the people of Willy’s overlapping past and present sidle in and vanish to keep him on constant edge. Voices and sound effects, too, are piped in non-realistically — MacKinnon and designer Jeremy J. Lee could go even further here — sealing Willy within his memories while tightening the vise grip on the spectator.

An atmosphere of entrapment works for DeMunn’s bantam rooster interpretation, in which cheery optimism constantly tempers Willy’s contentiousness and rage. Hopes for remedy never flag: “What’s the answer?” he demands of everyone, not rhetorically but with an American’s can-do belief in second acts. (His toothy grin and pince-nez are poignant reminders of FDR, who got a generation through Depression and war but wasn’t around to pick up the pieces.)

When the search for answers comes up snake eyes, Willy’s dilemma becomes positively existential, fed by the tension between the circular environment’s swirling momentum and DeMunn’s determination to stay on his feet. The relief when he sails off to his titular fate — not defeated but transfigured; here’s the positive step he’s been seeking — feels very much like catharsis.

DeMunn and Moseley are utterly credible life partners in their prickly give-and-take, with Moseley summoning up strength rarely seen in Lindas to indict her sons for what they’ve done to her man. Lucas Caleb Rooney takes a too studied, intellectualized approach to Biff, but Tyler Pierce completely embodies brother Happy’s in-the-bones sleaziness.

Jordan Baker and Jesse Jensen make the most of brief appearances as witnesses to Willy’s disintegration, and John Procaccino offers a superb, fully realized portrait of neighbor Charley as the put-together man Willy yearns to be, but can’t see standing right in front of him.

Death of a Salesman

Old Globe, San Diego; 250 seats; $67 top

Production: An Old Globe presentation of a play in two acts by Arthur Miller. Directed by Pam MacKinnon.

Creative: Sets, Marion Williams; costumes, Matthew J. LeFebvre; lighting, Rui Rita; sound, Jeremy J. Lee; stage manager, Lavinia Henley. Opened Jan. 27, 2011. Reviewed Jan. 29. Runs through Feb. 27. Running time: 3 HOURS.

Cast: Willy Loman - Jeffrey DeMunn
Linda - Robin Moseley
Biff - Lucas Caleb
Rooney Happy - Tyler PierceWith: Jordan Baker, Ben Diskant, Jesse Jensen, John Procaccino, Deborah Radloff, Ryman Sneed, Adrian Sparks, Jonathan Spivey.

More Legit

  • Because of Winn Dixie review

    Regional Theater Review: 'Because of Winn Dixie,' the Musical

    Watching the musical “Because of Winn Dixie” at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Conn., it’s hard not to think of another show that premiered in the same regional theater 43 years ago. It, too, featured a scruffy stray dog, a lonely-but-enterprising young girl and a closed-off daddy who finally opens up. But “Winn Dixie,” based [...]


    Off Broadway Review: 'Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow'

    There’s something about Anton Chekhov’s whiny sisters that invites comic sendups of “Three Sisters” like the one Halley Feiffer wrote on commission for the Williamstown Theater Festival. Transferred to MCC Theater’s new Off Broadway space and playing in the round in a black box with limited seating capacity, the crafty show feels intimate and familiar. [...]

  • the way she spoke review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Way She Spoke' With Kate del Castillo

    Since the 1990s, scores of women in Juarez, Mexico have been mutilated, raped, and murdered at such a rate that some have called it an epidemic of femicide—killing women and girls solely because they are women. Isaac Gomez’s play “the way she spoke,” produced Off Broadway by Audible and starring Kate del Castillo, confronts the [...]


    Brian Cox Playing LBJ in Broadway Run of 'The Great Society'

    Brian Cox will play President Lyndon Johnson in the Broadway run of “The Great Society,” playwright Robert Schenkkan’s follow-up to “All the Way.” The role of Johnson, a crude, but visionary politician who used the office of the presidency to pass landmark civil rights legislation and social programs, was originally played by Bryan Cranston in [...]

  • Paul McCartney Has Penned Score for

    Paul McCartney Has Been Secretly Writing an 'It's a Wonderful Life' Musical

    The pop superstar who once released a movie and album called “Give My Regards to Broad Street” really does have designs on Broadway, after all. It was revealed Wednesday that Paul McCartney has already written a song score for a stage musical adaptation of the 1946 Frank Capra film classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The [...]

  • The Night of the Iguana review

    West End Review: 'The Night of the Iguana' With Clive Owen

    If Tennessee Williams is the poet laureate of lost souls, none of his characters as are off-grid as the restless travelers trying to make it through his little-seen 1961 play, “The Night of the Iguana.” Holed up in a remote Mexican homestay, its ragtag itinerants live hand-to-mouth, day by day, as they seek refuge from [...]

  • Moulin Rouge Broadway

    Listen: The Special Sauce in Broadway's 'Moulin Rouge!'

    There are songs in the new Broadway version of “Moulin Rouge!” that weren’t in Baz Luhrmann’s hit movie — but you probably know them anyway. They’re popular tunes by superstars like Beyoncé, Adele and Rihanna, released after the 2001 movie came out, and they’ll probably unleash a flood of memories and associations in every audience [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content