Timely describes Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s season night-cap. A sarcastic toast to resurgent free market enthusiasm, and all the “self-making” delusions that tag along with attitudes encouraging reduction of society to no-holds-barred capitalism, Arthur Miller’s classic challenges this exuberance prophetically. Death of a Salesman reminds us all of the virtue found in honest reflection, as only theater, in comparison to contemporary mass media, seems to have the guts to do these days.
Miller opens the Loman household to scrutiny, as Willie (Lee Ernst) and long-suffering wife Linda (Laura Gordon) cope with the personal tolls exacted by professional life in the post-war business sector. When two thirty-something-aged sons appear, they rehash memories of the Loman’s child rearing years. The perceived expectations of 1950’s early onset consumer culture tack veneers on the members of the Loman family and friends. To these veneers, the characters’ past and present life experiences apply varnish or turpentine.
Progress through the scenes of Mark Clements’ production reach a point of bullying comfort; credit Ernst for his ability to take the audience past entertainment value to at least the point emotional response. The cast proved adept as usual, despite Reese Madigan, better suited for the role Hannay in 39 Steps, fidgeting a bit while finding his way into the character of Biff. Madigan’s portrayal still worked well, in caricature of the period in which Miller authored Death of a Salesman. Accurate, visionary set design, and exceptionally well-timed and in-place actors projected a polished show.