Theater Review: Death of a Salesman by The Magnetic Theatre

Photo courtesy of Magnetic Theater

Most people know Arthur Miller’s 1949 Pulitzer-winning drama, Death of a Salesman. The play is almost part of our collective DNA. Yet audiences will be surprised by the new production that is underway in the River Arts District.

The Magnetic Theatre eschews a typical approach to this production. In the deeply moving tale, salesman Willy Lowman is lost in the post-WWII-era America. For Loman, who is in his 60s, the things he found comforting and the world he thought he knew are changing before him. Steven Samuels brings Loman to life, shifting from the frustrations of the world confronting him to the disconnected fancies that haunt him. He sees the past intertwining with the present and gets lost between the two. My wife remarked of his performance, “He’s the real deal.”

Director Henry Williamson III has taken an iconic play, assembled a perfect cast, and created an experience that makes Salesman a moving personal journey for the characters and the audience. It is a deep examination of the fragile interpretation of the American Dream and the rifts that arise between generations over what it means and how to achieve it. Williamson guides the cast through the twists of the human spirit, allowing them to breathe life into the characters and revel in the wonderfully poetic writing.

Jane Hallstrom plays Linda Loman, the weary wife. She lives in a certain degree of denial as she tries to find a way to make peace with Willy’s failing mental state while also bringing peace to the family. Erik Moellering‘s performance as Biff, the angry older son, is a breakout. Biff has been adrift since high school and harbors a deep anger over his father’s failings. Allen Law is the more outgoing younger son, Happy. He inhabits the middle ground of denial and attempts to hold the fragile family together.

Every performer in the show, from those with the smallest supporting roles to the leads, is to be commended for their professional execution of daunting material. Standouts include David Mycoff’s Charley, Elliot Weiner’s Ben and Cody Magouirk as Bernard.

The set, by Chase Watkin, has a wonderfully cluttered and claustrophobic feeling, an embodiment of the world that whirls within the mind of Willy Lowman. It’s a space in which the specter of death takes on many forms: Death of one’s way of life, one’s dignity, one’s hopes and dreams and one’s perception of what makes a life worth living.

WHAT: Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman
WHERE: The Magnetic Theatre, themagnetictheatre.org
WHEN: Through May 28, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.

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About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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7 thoughts on “Theater Review: Death of a Salesman by The Magnetic Theatre

  1. jmhallstrom@gmail.com

    say this on Facebook instead of in the review?
    Jeff, the reviewer, also had this to sat on Facebook:
    “You have to see this show! If you know Death of a Salesman, you owe it to yourself to see this astonishing production. If you don’t know it, but think you do, you will be surprised. A professional, top-shelf cast and director take an iconic play to new heights!” Thursdays through Saturdays till May 28.

  2. Anon

    I was at this performance and I must say this is a sparsely written and incomplete review of this play. There was so much more going on here. I wonder is the author was asleep?

    • Jeff

      The length of the reviews are typically only about this long, which does not allow for a fuller or more detailed review. As well, the review is meant to whet the appetite of the reader to convince them to go see the show, not to give away extensive details in the review. Within the framework of the word count, and the size and scope of the play, I chose to focus my review on the aspects that I felt best suited this format. I would be happy to talk at greater length about my full impressions of the show with you at any time, as I was wide awake during the show, despite your snide implication to the contrary. Of course, you are welcome to write your own review in the comment section, as I would love to read it. 500 words, and include all the details about dates, times, etc.

      • Big Al

        Dittos, Jeff. There is a troll under every bridge in this town. So much for “The Spirit of Asheville”.

        Did you see “The Improbables”? I was disappopointed, to put it mildly. Your review gives me hope that Magnetic Theater will resume its’ former excellence and I look forward to seeing this play.

        • Steven Samuels

          Big Al, check Jeff’s 880therevolution blog for his rave review for “The Improbables.”

  3. Big Al

    This was a well-executed performance of a powerful work. Magnetic Theater is redeemed in my eyes and I look forward to this year’s schedule of events.

  4. Jack B Nimble

    I continue to be mystified by what passes for “theater” in this town. I just came from seeing this production, and while there are many things to talk about, the complete failure of the actors to connect with each other is the sin that is unforgivable. A select few did breathe life into their characters (Jane Hallstrom, Erik Moellering, and Cody Magouirk), but for all their hard work, they had no one with whom to connect. Nothing happened on that stage that was spontaneous or genuine. A group of people recited the lines to a famous play in bad lighting on a tragically dysfunctional set. There was no connection, no spark. Occasionally there was yelling, and sometimes some very inward-focused weeping (just what Asheville needed, more weeping). But the story of Willy Lohman — his lifetime of hard work and humiliation, the shame of seeing his kids grow up to be just like him, his desperate pleas for attention — that story didn’t come through. Kudos to the actors who soldiered on in the face of nothingness, but as a piece of theater, the production was far from successful.

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