Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is one of the best known plays of the last century, so surely the Arkansas Repertory Theatre is doing the classic theatrical piece for, if not the umpteenth time, at least for a second go-round?
Nope. The Rep has never done the play, which won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. Bob Hupp, producing artistic director at the Rep, notes that the only time the theater has done any Miller play, it was All My Sons, about a decade ago.
“This is the first time the Rep has done Death of a Salesman,” Hupp says. “I don’t know what the explanation is, other than the Rep’s season always includes three or four musicals, plus usually an American classic. Last year it was To Kill a Mockingbird.There are a handful of playwrights that the Rep has never produced, including Ibsen, Chekhov and Shaw.
“In terms of the American playwrights, we’ve done more plays by Tennessee Williams than anyone else, perhaps due to his more Southern themes that appeal to our audiences. You will find some scholars who will say that [Death of a Salesman] is the quintessential American play, and I think that the themes and ideas of the play are as powerful today as when the play was first written in 1949.”
Hupp, who first became familiar with the play in his college English classes, saw the revival on Broadway last year. He notes that the play will be presented as Miller wrote it, with no modifications. The set design will be based on the original set design.
“We’re not modernizing it in any way, not setting it in any different era; we’re letting the text come to life and speak for itself,” he says.
The play depicts a family in which Willy Loman, a traveling salesman, is becoming tired in both body and mind. He complains to his wife, Linda, that their sons are not living up to his expectations. Son Biff was a star athlete in high school, but math proved his undoing and he never went to college. Meanwhile, younger son Happy is a womanizer with a dead-end job.
Loman, the title character, will be portrayed by Robert Walden, known to journalists for his role as Joe Rossi in the TV series Lou Grant, which ran for 114 episodes from 1977-’82. Other noted actors who have played Loman include Lee J. Cobb when the drama first opened on Broadway in 1949, with revivals in 1975 (George C. Scott), 1984 (Dustin Hoffman), 1999 (Brian Dennehy) and 2012 (Philip Seymour Hoffman).
Walden has an extensive resume in theater, film and TV, but has never played Loman before.
“Why would I want to do that to myself more than once?” he says with a laugh. “It’s a great opportunity, but that’s what my nephew asked me, and I answered that ‘I want to go out like a great artist,’ and there’s not that great [an] opportunity for men of [my] age, so this is, like [Lee] Strasburg says, ‘You can’t grow unless you play the great roles.’
“I met Bob two years ago when the theater was a concrete shell, undergoing renovations, and I saw The 39 Steps, the last show before the theater was renovated. To paraphrase JFK when he went to Germany, ‘I am the man who escorted Christy Carpenter to Arkansas.’”
Carpenter is the chief executive officer of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean Mountain, where Walden and Carpenter now live.
Cast members portraying the other members of the Loman family are Carolyn Mignini as Linda, Avery Clark as Biff and Craig Maravich as Happy.
Clark, an Arkansas native who has done impressive work at the Rep as Hannay in The 39 Steps and in the title roles of Hamlet and Henry V, is excited about landing a role in which his character’s name does not start with an “H.”
“I’m actually excited to be a supporting character,” Clark says, “and to have the challenges of playing a character in two different time periods, as he peaks at 18 and then lost in adulthood and still searching for who he is and what he is, still trying to live up to his father’s expectations. And this is my first contemporary play in about three years.”
Hupp and the cast will discuss the play’s historical importance and continuing relevance in the Clinton School of Public Service’s Distinguished Speaker Series, from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesday. For reservations, call the school at (501) 683-5239.
Death of a Salesman
7 p.m. today, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, with performances at 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through May 12, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Sixth and Main streets, Little Rock.
Preview performance: 7 p.m. today with pre-show director’s talk from 6:15-6:45 p.m.
Sign-interpreted performance: Wednesday (May 1 only)
Tickets: $25-$40; $5 off advance purchases through today; student tickets half-price for all seats
Weekend, Pages 35 on 04/25/2013
Print Headline: Walden stars in Rep debut of Death of a Salesman