“Attention must be paid,” insists Linda Loman, played by the quietly grieving JoAnn Montemurro, to her two sons, Happy and Biff.
And, take my word for it: I remained slanted forward in my seat throughout director Micheal Menendian’s intense new production of this Arthur Miller classic.
This was my first time seeing Death of a Salesman onstage. I’ve read Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work sometime in high school, so the themes of betrayal, abandonment and the shattered American Dream were not lost on me.
However, seeing it in person at Raven Theatre’s very first public performance (the show opens October 11) shed a bold new light on the piece. Especially when life-long salesman Willy is played by the disheveled and volcanic Chuck Spencer and his broken son Biff by the surprisingly sensitive Jason Huysman.
This principle players are fantastic. However, Spencer, in his oversized suit and with a face that snaps from confused loss to bright-eyed hope in a millisecond, is simply outstanding. As is Huysman, who is immensely heartbreaking in his tearful plea for his father to accept him as a failure.
Attention should also be paid to Andrei Onegin’s scenic design. I’m not sure how other productions of Salesman have introduced Willy to the audience, but having him mutter and shuffle onstage and then literally pull open his home to have the exterior spin around to expose the inside of the Loman household is quite effective. (Onegin did something similar for Raven’s Hedda Gabler earlier this year — a giant steamer trunk opened to reveal Hedda’s boudoir. If used in one more show, the novelty might wear off.)
While a few actors are still finding their footing, and the climactic final moment seems a bit hurried (which was also the case in Raven’s Gabler, also directed by Menendian), I’m sure by opening night this Salesman will deliver the full emotional punch.
Death of a Salesman runs through December 5 at the Raven Theatre on 6157 N Clark St. For more information, visit raventheatre.com.