Death of a Salesman, Ethel Barrymore Theatre, New York


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The Independent Culture

Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is the sort of play that benefits from a pertinent revival. Rarely has his take on the hollow heart of the American Dream seemed more relevant as American self-belief continues to falter amid economic fragility and continued job insecurity.

Directed by Mike Nichols and starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as Willy Loman and Andrew Garfield as his oldest son, Biff, this is a strong, solid Salesman, which, while it never quite hits the heights of the gut-wrenching 1999 revival with Brian Dennehy, is never less than compelling.

As Willy, Hoffman wears his bulk lightly managing to suggest both the slipshod charm of the man, and the crushing weight of years of accumulated lies and small disappointments. At his best in the cleverly staged flashback scenes where he makes you understand Willy’s easy appeal, his confidence that he is “well liked” and that “the man who creates personal interest is the man who gets ahead”, the 44-year-old actor occasionally appears too young for the worn-down present day Willy, his silvered temples failing to disguise his youthful face.

Nor is this simply Hoffman’s show. Making his Broadway debut, Garfield adeptly captures Biff’s vulnerability, showing us a broken man-child still caught between adolescent and adulthood, forever relieving the moment when his belief in his father died. His desperate final plea (“I’m a dime a dozen and so are you”) is so nakedly emotional it is barely

possible to watch. Meanwhile, Finn Wittrock lends solid support as the callous, carefree Happy and Linda Emond is quietly affecting as the worn-down Linda reminding us “attention must be paid”.

That attention ultimately is paid as Hoffman forces us to care for his blustering, bewildered Willy, a man who has lived his life on credit, building his family relationships on the same fast-shifting quicksands that he’s built his career.

By the time Linda Loman offers her bittersweet requiem for her big-hearted, big-talking, big-dreaming husband – “Willy I made the last payment on the house today. Today, dear… We’re free and clear” – it’s hard not to weep not just for Willy and Linda but for all the Willys and Lindas still out there simply hoping to put a bit of money aside each week to get by.

To 2 June (