The American stage and film actor Harris Yulin dominates the Gate Production of this Arthur Millar classic in the title role of Willie Loman, the delusional if not disillusioned salesman. From the moment he stands there with two heavy samples cases, you recognise his face and you sense the lifetime of weariness, dreams and unfulfilled promises of a self-promoted American dream. This everyman becomes the inner thoughts and remembered dreams and faded hopes of many in the audience. What a deep disturbing performance of stunning ability. You can feel the terrible thoughts and secrets of a failure who cannot accept failure and who sees his eventual suicide as a payoff day for his wife and un- achieving sons.
In a relentless series of flashbacks and narrative changes you experience such an ache of despair as lied and more lies are used to make promises and create dreams of deals done and that business will feed those dreams. Loman believes a man must achieve something, there must be a golden pay day but he knows and in his despair accepts that life and time has passed him by. In a contemporary sense many people in today’s recession have difficulty understanding that to live your life well and honestly will not protect you from the unexpected outcomes and disasters. In Millar’s iconic phrase, the woods are burning.
But in this stunning production by David Esbjornson I actually realised that Loman’s long-suffering wife Linda, is equally culpable as she accepts her husband’s delusions and feeds her two ne’er-do-well sons the same toxic dream of achievement and better times.
Deirdre Donnelly as Linda shone with intensity in this production and was in no way overshadowed by Yulin.
The set by Michael Pavelka was oppressive on a sloped stage but it added to the skewed world of Willie Loman. I felt like crying during the standing ovation but the despair numbed me – stunned me.