When you’re asked to review a production of a play like Arthur Miller’s 1949 play Death of a Salesman, it’s difficult to tell if you should just review the production or attempt to make some comment upon the play itself. The problem is that Death of a Salesman is so embedded in western theatrical tradition, and even in the wider cultural imagination, making any attempt at criticism seem far outside the scope of this review. Suffice it to say that it’s a classic for a reason. To paraphrase W. H. Auden: Some plays are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered.
There are two very striking aspects of this production which deserve the loudest and warmest praise, the first of which is the set design. Caelan Mitchell-Bennett (who also directed the production) and Natasha Maurer pulled off the biggest set build I’ve ever seen to masterful effect. The scaffolding and platforming looked imposing but blended into the Barron so well that the giant set piece didn’t intrude on the play at all. Unlike most productions, I didn’t find myself playing the “spot all the set pieces that everyone uses in every show” game that people who see a lot of student theatre will no doubt be familiar with. There was nothing superfluous, nothing out of place and it was lit beautifully by Grace Cowie. I can’t emphasise enough just how much I enjoyed looking at the set for this production, easily the best the Barron has looked all year.
The second aspect is the performance of Daniel Jonusas as the title character Willy Loman. Jonusas gave the best performance I have ever seen in my four years in this town. His physical embodiment of the old, broken-down and gradually losing the will to live was nothing short of spectacular. He gave the character a real fullness and completeness that is incredibly rare in student theatre. Lomans manic babbling during the more intense scenes were contrasted beautifully with the more tender moments he shares with his wife Linda (Isabel Dollar) and he connected these two aspects of the character so that they flowed into each other wonderfully. Jonusas pushed himself to new heights in this production and I’m overjoyed to have seen his hard work pay off.
While the performances in general were strong, they didn’t quite live up to the central performance and there was a problem with actors losing their focus at times. Of particular note was a touching performance by Timo Marchant who played Biff Loman with convincing and likable insecurity. Coggin Galbreath (who’s rapidly becoming my new favourite actor) turned in a measured, charming and delightful performance as Willy’s brother Ben. I very much enjoyed his shockingly convincing fake moustache. Finally, Miles Peter Hurley put in a memorable turn as the upbeat waiter Stanley in an otherwise very dour play.
All in all, the cast and crew put on a memorable and moving production of Miller’s classic, but some parts of it didn’t quite work as well as others. The set truly was beautiful, but some of the scene changes were clunky and awkward. There were some outstanding performances, but sometimes accents slipped and words got a little lost. Most of these are minor quibbles, the kind of thing that prevents an elusive 5 star rating but didn’t at all prevent it from being one of the best things I’ve seen in this town.