"A man has got to add up to something," bellows Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's masterpiece Death of a Salesman. The Broadway revival of this quintessential American play is a powerhouse. This 63-year-old drama adds up to a remarkable night in the theater.
Now at the Barrymore, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as Willy and Andrew Garfield as his lost son Biff, this soulful lament of missed dreams and misguided desires is staged with aching sensitivity by Mike Nichols, aided by Alex North's original background music and a reproduction of Jo Mielziner's original claustrophobic set.
Miller is the master of father-son heartache; the pain of generational miscues is organic. Willy pins his hopes on Biff, the teenage football star whose fall from grace destroys his life. The adult Biff is trapped by his urban landscape and restlessness, while brother Happy (Finn Wittrock) preens about his sales acumen. In truth, Happy is a womanizing louse; like his father, he embraces big dreams but manufacturers little success.
"Certain men take longer to solidify," Willy says of Biff. But solidity is not a Loman family trait. The American dream has eluded them. Now, as economic uncertainty and premature job loss hits millions, Willy's spiral, and Miller's critical look at business, resonates anew.
Self-delusion and muted opportunities are played in a raw, naturalistic style. But since Salesman is a memory play, Miller poetically reveals all facets of hopes dashed. He ratchets up the drama when Biff finally confronts his father -- in a gut-wrenching scene that establishes the play's eternal truths -- and reveals Garfield as a staggeringly good dramatic actor.
However, there is excellent work from the entire Loman family, as well as the supporting cast. As Willy's patient, fiercely loyal wife, Linda Emond helps anchor the emotionally chaotic household. Her understated frustrations are palpable. Wittrock's Happy is nicely calibrated as a glad-handing lout, who embraces Willy's delusions, while Hoffman skillfully wears his frustrations and disappointments like an old suit. His Willy Loman is a haunting shell of a man, a fitting eulogy to the dark side of the American dream.