Review: ‘Death of a Salesman,’ Diluted by Too Many Experiments


From left, Attilio Rigotti, Kayla Asbell, Justin Nestor and Corey Sullivan in “Death of a Salesman” at BAM Fisher.

Theater Mitu

Willy Loman has been smashing up his car and gassing himself on the boiler for nearly 70 years. A little man with big dreams and bigger regrets, he has rarely stepped offstage since Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” opened in 1949. Now, Willy is back in his native Brooklyn, courtesy of Theater Mitu at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and he’s acting pretty strangely — scurrying around in a wrinkly white mask, singing many of his lines, arguing with a refrigerator. Attention must be paid? Sure. Who doesn’t like a talking appliance? But this “Death of a Salesman” revival eclipses the classic instead of illuminating it.

It’s almost always a good time to resurrect Willy. An Everyman making a desperate tally of his small triumphs and greater disappointments, he speaks to those who feel left behind by social progress, caged in the sweet land of liberty. His story ought to resound just now. How many men and women like him punched ballots for Donald J. Trump? But the director Rubén Polendo’s unproductive, experimental staging is mostly just talking to itself, sidelining a larger conversation.

“Death of a Salesman” has never been a strictly realistic play. It describes the final hours of Willy, a traveling salesman flummoxed by the downward trajectory of his life and his livelihood. An early draft seemed to take place inside Willy’s skull, and the final one skids back and forth in time as Willy tries to pinpoint just where and when and how he went wrong. So the tragedy can stray from realism, though not perhaps as much as Mr. Polendo does.

Here, Happy, Willy’s younger son, is played by a punching bag, manipulated by a hooded, black-clad puppeteer….

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