Death of a Salesman on Broadway
Wendell Pierce and Sharon D Clarke in ‘Death of a Salesman.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

Welcome to Curtain Call, our mostly queer take on the latest openings on Broadway and beyond.

The Rundown:

One of Arthur Miller’s most-produced plays returns for a limited engagement after its acclaimed London revival. This production of Death of a Salesman marks the play’s sixth Broadway incarnation, but the first time its central characters — the Lohman family — have reflected the experience of the Black community. Adding layers of socioeconomic and racial tension, director Miranda Cromwell captures Willy Lohman’s memory-bending journey as he succumbs to the unraveling of the American Dream.

Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan) and Sharon D Clarke star as the long-married couple Willy and Linda Lohman with a stellar supporting cast that position Death of a Salesman at the epicenter of the first wave of the Great Migration in which a total of more than six million Black people from the South relocated to cities in the North, Midwest, and West.

Related: In american (tele)visions, the American Dream becomes a nightmare

Death of a Salesman on Broadway
(l to r) Khris Davis, Wendell Pierce, Sharon D Clarke, and McKinley Belcher III in ‘Death of a Salesman.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

No Tea, No Shade:

The deeply researched and thoughtfully framed production includes additional program notes by Arminda Thomas and an online study guide. The valuable tools provide historical context for Willy and Linda’s 1924 home purchase in Brooklyn, New York, and the 25-year mortgage that hangs over their heads like Anna Fleischle’s scenic design, which consists of a sparse collection of suspended furniture that descends when needed. The larger framework feels more Brutalist than Brooklyn but implies the claustrophobic urban development choking the life of the Lohman family.

With bursts of rage, humor, and utter defeat, Pierce unearths a Willy Lohman for a new generation of theatergoers. His Willy is electric, with life’s rewards constantly just out of arm’s reach. Pushed to the edge, he pleads with his boss (the son of the man who hired him 34 years prior) to keep him on.

Death of a Salesman on Broadway
‘Death of a Salesman’ on Broadway. Photo by Joan Marcus.

“In those days there was personality in it, Howard; there was respect, and comradeship, and gratitude in it,” Willy says. “Today, it’s all cut and dried, and there’s no chance for bringing friendship to bear … or personality. They don’t know me anymore.”

Willy’s brother Ben (André De Shields) appears as a ghostly apparition with plenty of personality, outfitted in a white suit, rhinestone loafers, and hands weighted down with jeweled rings. Surrounded by other-worldly puffs of fog, he hovers over Willy’s consciousness, as do his sons Biff (Khris Davis) and Happy (McKinley Belcher III). As teens, the pair’s stylized presentation, truncated by intrusive flashbulbs of light and sound, jar Willy in and out of reality. But their adult selves ring more authentic, particularly when pitted against their mother, struggling to keep the family intact.

“Today, it’s all cut and dried, and there’s no chance for bringing friendship to bear … or personality. They don’t know me anymore.” Willy Loman, Death of a Salesman

Let’s Have a Moment:

Sharon D Clarke, reprising her role as Linda from last year’s production at London’s Young Vic Theatre, reconciles portions of Miller’s script that, in lesser hands, could position the devoted wife as blindly ignorant. Instead, Clarke’s Linda sees something beyond Willy’s crippling pride and infidelity.

After a night in which the young men were supposed to take Willy out for dinner but hit the town with women they picked up at the restaurant, they return to find their mother furious. “You’re a pair of animals! Not one, not another living soul would have had the cruelty to walk out on the man in a restaurant!” she screams, ordering them out of the house.

In the play’s final moments, Clarke delivers a poignant requiem — the Great Migration poignantly distilled down to a moment that is at once full of mourning and survival.

Related: Angelica Ross on her Broadway debut, tech passion, and reclaiming musicals

Death of a Salesman on Broadway
(left) Wendell Pierce; (right) Sharon D Clarke, Wendell Pierce and Khris Davis in ‘Death of a Salesman.’ Photo by Joan Marcus.

The Last Word:

At over three hours long, with the addition of incidental music that imbues the production, Death of a Salesman is no small feat for actors or audiences. “I have to know and feel that lead coat, the heaviness and the weight of the world that is placed upon Willy so that I can fight with all the fire and exuberance,” said Pierce in an interview with the New York Times. And fight, he does.

Death of a Salesman plays at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre through January 15, 2023.

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