Hoffman Shines in Revival of ‘Death of a Salesman’

For those who have taken a high school English course, you might have paid some or little attention to your boring English teacher read through Arthur Miller’s 1949 play Death of a Salesman.

One thing is for sure, there will nothing boring coming out of the Barrymore Theater for the next seven weeks where Miller’s magnum opus is being revived for the fourth time under the direction of the legendary Mike Nichols (The Graduate, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Birdcage).

Even without Nichols, Salesman has a star-studded cast that has made it the toughest ticket in town, the biggest star of them all being the masterful Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote, Doubt and Charlie Wilson’s War).

Hoffman is iconic as the story’s troubled protagonist Willy Loman; a complex character who is oblivious to the fact that he has been misled his entire life about the American Dream and the rules of how to be happy and successful.

Hoffman portrays Willy like one of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, a sympathetic and, at some points, a loveable character who obsesses over specific facets of his life.  One of those facets being the way things used to be.  During the production’s many flashbacks, Hoffman could quickly switch from being a joyful middle-aged man playing football with his teenage sons Biff, played by Andrew Garfield (The Social Network, Never Let Me Go and summer of 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man), and Happy, played by Finn Wittrock (All My Children), to being a disgruntled traveling salesman who refuses to adapt to the times.

In Willy, Miller created one of the most challenging characters to portray in American theater, and Hoffman exuded ease throughout the performance.

While Hoffman was nothing less than brilliant in his role, Linda Edmond’s portrayal of Linda Loman stood as the catalyst for the entire production.

Though she seemed subdued with Willy even during his darkest hours in the play, Edmond transforms Linda’s patience from passive to aggressive when translated onto the stage.  Her most defiant moment was when she raised her voice for the first time at the end of the first act and challenged her sons to find jobs and help support their dying father.  A moment that was not only integral, but breathtaking as well.

It isn’t a rare occurrence to see poor chemistry between an onstage couple, especially on Broadway.  But Hoffman and Edmond’s faux-marriage was believable and loveable.

Even after all of these years, 63 to be exact, Death of a Salesman is as prevalent as ever.  What was originally Arthur Miller’s personal attack on capitalism and the American Dream is still an attack on capitalism and the American Dream.  There are men and women who are just like Willy Loman all over the United States today.  There are people who have played by the rules and yet they don’t get their fair share in return.  With only a few weeks left in its limited engagement, one of the best casts on Broadway conveys a timeless American tale that hits extremely close to home.