Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize winning Death of a Salesman isn’t a project for the faint of heart, but Fenton Village Players proved themselves up to the challenge. A serious drama, it takes the audience on a journey inside the head of an aging traveling salesman as he comes face to face with his own shortcomings. This is an impressive production.
Written and set in 1949, Willy Loman, played masterfully by Steven Shelton, is the title character. His emotional range is striking. Returning home unexpectedly, Willy tells his wife, Linda (Patti Lee) that he was just too tired to continue. Lee is wonderful as the faithful and long-suffering wife and mother. She exudes strength and understanding even as her husband begins to retract into his own world.
We find that the two grown Loman boys are also home for a visit that will turn out to be less than loving before they’re finished. Zach Bach plays Happy who has spent most of his life in the shadow of his older brother Biff. He has managed to become employed and to support his playboy lifestyle, which is more than his brother can boast.
As Biff, Chris Vitarelli oozes angst over what at first seems to be his failure to live up to his father’s expectations. We will find as Willy continually relives his past that there is definitely more to the story of Biff’s broken dreams than meets the eye.
Biff’s boyhood friend, Bernard (Grant Kenney) was something of nerd, but of course grows up to be quite successful while Biff is still struggling to find his way. His father is Charley played by Matt Osterberg. A true friend, Willy still holds him at arms length even as he proves his friendship over and over.
Willie spends a lot of time living in the past and often speaking to his dead brother, Ben who is played with cogent grace by Geno Essenmacher. Ben left home early and made his fortune in diamonds, an adventure Willy longs to emulate but, of course, cannot.
Miller clearly expects us to recognize Willy along with his issues and struggles. He takes the character on a roller coaster of emotional memories where we can literally see him relive these not so happy experiences with which we are obviously supposed to empathize. Did I mention that this is not a comedy?
Director Joseph Mishler brings his cast to ensemble quality very nicely. The range of emotion that each must deal with emerges naturally and believably. Movement around the skeleton-style set is fluid.
About the set – Essenmacher has done double duty here. He seems to have followed the playwright’s directions to a tee and the result is quite intriguing. Players move in, around and through the “walls” as the set becomes other places. It would seem this would be difficult to follow, but it isn’t.
Overall, just the idea of producing this story of Willy Loman is daunting, but FVP has powerfully managed to bring it to vibrant life. We understand him and the values by which he lived and was ultimately destroyed. If there was anything missing Thursday, it was the full house that this show so richly deserves.
Death of a Salesman continues through April 30. For more information and tickets contact the box office at 810-750-7700 or online at www.FentonTheatre.org