With its recent and very successful resurrection on Broadway, Arthur Millar’s Death of a Salesman is an interesting peek into the story of a family dynamic as it examines the high cost of blind faith in the American Dream. I had come into Death of a Salesman with high hopes of greatness because in terms of New Zealand acting hierarchy there’s some top stuff on that stage. I mean, there’s pretty much a whole season worth of Shortland Street actors up there, so it had to be good, right? Jesse Peach’s return from Sydney to our fair shores to direct this little nugget of playwriting brilliance sees him bringing to stage an easy sell.
With some nearly faultless acting from a stellar cast, the standouts were George Henare (as Willy Lowman) and Ian Hughes (as Willy’s eldest son, Biff). The onstage father-son relationship came across as deep and tainted and wonderfully human. While the pair wandered around in differing time periods and levels of anxiety, I was keeping a keen ear out for accent hiccups but these two were flawless. I developed a soft spot for Bruce Phillips and Nic Sampson’s performances as well. They played another father and son pairing, Charley (Phillips) and Bernard (Sampson), and every time they came onstage I began to expect them to be a joy to watch. Phillips was a rude and quick witted older man and Sampson was his tattle-telling son, an eager boy who idolised the already big-headed, Biff.
I had a director tell me recently that black outs between scenes were, in effect, cop outs and so it was interesting to see how Peach utilised music and lighting to avoid relying on the good old black stage. When I first heard the music I was fairly sceptical. It seemed ineffectual and a little unsuited to the narrative, but paired with the delicate lighting design and with a friend sitting next to me who didn’t notice there was music at all, I’ve since second guessed my initial impressions. Perhaps Peach has masterfully managed to subliminally and gently convey to his audience the temper of the moment by his technique.
Whatever the reason for these directorial decisions, Peach Theatre Company’s Death of a Salesman is no doubt going to be a hit, and deservedly so. It is long, sure, but have a bevy (yes, a bevy) and get comfy. It’s worth the pins and needles in your backside because Arthur Miller and Geroge Henare do make such a beautiful couple.