Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, is widely lauded as one of the greatest plays of the 20th century, winning a Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play in 1949 and going on to be revived on Broadway four times, adapted for cinema and television, and winning more and more awards with every incarnation.
Its protagonist, Willy Loman, is one of the most iconic American characters and has been played by legends of the stage and screen including Dustin Hoffman, Brian Dennehy, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Christopher Lloyd.
As the death-rattle of American optimism echoes through the land of the Free Market, travelling salesman Willy Loman loses himself in the halcyon haze of the past. Once the king of the road, Willy is veering off it. There was a time when Willy could sell anyone anything, and his reward was the whole package: wife, two sons, the car, the white picket fence.
But now he’s feeling his years. He’s behind on the mortgage, he’s sidelined by his wet-behind-the-ears boss, and the final straw is when his adult son Biff – once a sporting prodigy, now a directionless disappointment – lands on the doorstep, further loosening Willy’s grip on the reality of his broken-down life.
This February, Queensland Theatre is taking on Miller’s towering classic with seasoned director Jason Klarwein (My Name is Jimi, Much Ado About Nothing) at the helm and featuring a star-studded cast including Charles Allen (True West, Hoges: The Paul Hogan Story), Kevin Hides (Composing Venus, A Conversation), Peter Kowitz (Janet King, Crownies), Thomas Larkin (The Wider Earth, Macbeth), Jackson McGovern (The Owl and the Pussycat, Rent –The Musical), Angie Milliken (The Effect, Rake), Sarah Ogden (The Crucible, Moth), Ilai Swindells (SLiDE, Harrow) and Gemma Willing (Tidelands, Wuthering Heights).
Director, Jason Klarwein, said that in a masterstroke of writing, the play is seen as even more relevant today, than perhaps it was when originally penned. “Seventy years after the play was written, many of its themes still ring true,” he said. “Arthur Miller saw what happened to people in The Great Depression.”
“He saw how large companies and banks exploited the working classes. He died before the recent global financial crisis but in that case, large companies were largely bailed out by the US government whereas the people who lost their houses and livelihoods were not. We’ve just had a banking royal commission in Australia so local audiences will be very familiar with these themes.”
“The story is rich with applications to modern-day happenings, testament to the writing of Arthur Miller. It’s in every sense of the word, a modern classic, and it is a privilege to direct such an incredible cast.”
The production’s set is the work of award-winning designer, Richard Roberts (Design For Living, Much Ado About Nothing, Noises Off) and features the Loman’s 1930s weatherboard house in Brooklyn. “Willy’s mind makes the concept of time in the play very slippery so there is some stage trickery that audiences will have to wait to see!” said Klarwein.
On programming Death of a Salesman to open Season 2019, Artistic Director, Sam Strong said, “For me Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is one of the greatest plays ever written. It is also one of the most profoundly affecting experiences you can have in a theatre.”
“It is an incredible vehicle for actors and we are thrilled to welcome back Brisbane native Peter Kowitz who has the perfect combination of vulnerability and bluster to bring the famous Willy Loman to life. It is a timeless meditation on the need to feel special, a withering commentary on capitalism, and a tragic portrait of a fallout between father and son. It’s a powerhouse start to season 2019,” Strong added.
One of the twentieth century’s greatest writers, Arthur Miller’s most famous plays include All My Sons, The Crucible and A View From the Bridge. His screenplays include The Misfits, starring his then wife, Marilyn Monroe, The Hook and Everybody Wins. Miller’s writing earned him a lifetime of honors, including the Pulitzer Prize, seven Tony Awards, two Drama Critics Circle Awards, an Obie, an Olivier, the John F Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize. He died on 11 February 2005.
Director: Jason Klarwein Featuring: Charles Allen, Kevin Hides, Peter Kowitz, Thomas Larkin, Jackson McGovern, Angie Milliken, Sarah Ogden, Ilai Swindells, Gemma Willing Set Designer: Richard Roberts Associate Designer / Costume Designer: Anthony Spinaze Lighting Designer: Verity Hampson Composer/Sound Designer: Justin Harrison
Death of a Salesman
Playhouse – Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), Cultural Precinct, Southbank (Brisbane)
Season: 9 February – 2 March 2019
For more information, visit: www.queenslandtheatre.com.au for details.
Image: Peter Kowitz stars in Death of a Salesman (supplied)