Seen on Broadway: The past is ever-present in Mike Nichols’ revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. Summoned from 1949 are Jo Mielziner’s breathtaking set and Alex North’s original music (effectively conveyed via Scott Lehrer’s sound design), and I would guess that Brian MacDevitt’s handsome lighting design and Ann Roth’s spot-on costumes take their cues from that first groundbreaking production besides. You are well and truly in the presence of greatness at the Barrymore, as if you had gone back in time to a seminal moment in theatrical history. (One that, so far as I know, transpired in full color; the black and white production stills are unnecessarily arty.)
That said, it takes some time before the principal actors catch up. John Glover (as the spectral Ben, brother to Willy Loman), Bill Camp (as Charley, Willy’s neighbor), and Fran Kranz (as Bernard, Charley’s son) are there from the get-go, fully immersed in the world of the play. But Death of a Salesman isn’t about Ben, or Charley, or Bernard. It’s about the Loman family, and the quartet of actors portraying them doesn’t satisfactorily gel. Philip Seymour Hoffman ran into the same problem in the 2003 revival of O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night; in both shows he’s locked into his own, blustery space, acting but never really being, at least, not at first (he’s not the youngest actor to portray the 60-year-old Loman but you on first inspection you can’t help but feel that he’d be more ideal in the next Broadway revival of the play, opposite sons the ages that Miller intended). He and Linda Emond, as the long-suffering Linda, don’t mesh, and Andrew Garfield (Biff) and Finn Wittrock (Happy) are orphaned by the disconnect.
Then, in the second act, the actors sharpen. They have to; the show is so urgent, and so crushing, that they would collapse under its weight if they couldn’t keep up. Each has a veritable aria of despair to perform, and the solos—sad, wrenching, and desperate—approach the magnificence that the group scenes lack. (Though his American accent slips, Garfield is particularly gripping as the unfulfilled Biff is forced to exorcise the unhappy legacy Willy has left for him.) You leave the theatre shaken, and haunted—by the performers, yes, who have found their voice, but also by the venerable production. The strangeness, and rightness, of the set, which look like the bones of an ancient tragedy stretched over the foundation of an unfolding one; the exactness of the lighting, including the windows of the suffocating urban backdrop; the stories embedded in Willy’s and Linda’s well-worn clothes; that music. This is art.
Death of a Salesman is scheduled to run through June 2. Attention, as they say, must be paid.
Seen Off Broadway: Thought and effort has gone into making something palatable from Carrie, the infamous musical flop of 1988. But what we have is a big Broadway bust turned into a little Off Broadway one. Stephen King’s story of a telekinetic teen driven by bullying to a high school rampage, the basis of Brian De Palma’s iconic 1976 movie, was unlikely material for musical treatment even by the dubious standards of screen-to-stage adaptation, and Carrie, given a pompous, high-art production at odds with its power ballad score, failed to levitate critics or audiences.
Still, it lingered. Largely intact except for a groaner or two is the music, which yields a few catchy numbers despite that repetitive 80s orchestration, notably a bitchy song for Carrie’s enemy, “The World According to Chris,” and a lament by Carrie’s fanatical mother, Margaret (Marin Mazzie), “When There’s No One.” The director, Stafford Arima (Altar Boyz), has scaled back the original’s misguided staging to a unit set that largely acts as the gym at Carrie’s school, which through artful use of projection and a few furnishings becomes different environments, including Carrie’s house and the post-disaster interrogation room where the story is now told in flashback. Molly Ranson is touching as Carrie, and Mazzie a bubbling cauldron of neuroses as Margaret.
The design team is stellar: David Zinn (scenic designer), Emily Rebholz (costumes), Sven Ortel (projections). And, frankly, overqualified. I didn’t read the Playbill, but the hot, rock lighting and the blistering sound seemed like knockoffs of, say, Kevin Adams and Jonathan Deans—to my surprise, it was their work, solid but too big for the room and clearly aspirational for a larger venue now out of reach for this well-intentioned but unsuccessful remounting. For the hellzapoppin finale, everything coalesces, as Carrie, clad in her bloodstained dress, emanates doom and the lights and projections breathe fire and brimstone. It’s an impressive display (abetted by special effects by Matthew Holtzclaw) in the service of a show that’s now neither camp nor Grand Guignol Sweeney Todd, but adrift somewhere in the middle. To paraphrase one of the song titles, the eve was weak. Carrie closes at the Lortel on April 8.
Death of a Salesman
Set Builders: Site Design Fabrication Services
Lighting Equipment: PRG
Audio Equipment: Sound Associates, Meyer Sound, Roland Systems Group, Sennheiser Electronic Corp.
Projection Equipment: WorldStage/Scharff Weisberg