Last Saturday my Dad and I went to see Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman on Broadway. What a knockout. It starred Philip Seymour Hoffman as Willy Loman, the soon-to-be Spiderman, Andrew Garfield as Biff, the wonderful Linda Emond as Linda, and promising thesp Finn Wittrock as Happy.
While I’d only read the play beforehand, it was phenomenal to see played out live. Biff and Willy’s relationship is the crux of the play, and Biff not following in his father’s footsteps and wanting to make his own way in the world resonated with me when I read the play, and hit me like a lightening bolt seeing it live with my Dad. I identified with the play so strongly, I felt like it could have taken place in my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware rather than Brooklyn. Although Death of a Salesman was written in 1949 and spoke of the shattered dreams of American exuberance and optimism after World War II, the play has lost none of its punch in 2012.
Mike Nichols’ version of Death of a Salesman has been criticized for the casting of Philip Seymour Hoffman for being too young, and Andrew Garfield as Biff because he’s too “weedy” and thin. I disagree with this. For me Hoffman and Garfield were the perfect cast, because I felt I was able to identify with both of them as my father and me.
My identification with the play comes from my father owning a law business in Delaware and the expectation that I would take over and work as a lawyer. Like Biff, I’ve tried to pursue other things (I took up acting rather than working as a ranch hand out West). Like Biff, I’ve had to crawl home on several occasions when my plans have failed, but I have remained stubborn in searching for my own identity separate from my family.
While I related with Biff Loman and his struggle for personal identity, I know that the Tomasettis are different that the Lomans. I think I’m much more level headed than Biff, and although math was never my strong suit, I didn’t flunk out. I also don’t think my Dad is washed up or on the brink of self ruin. I appreciate the similarities of father and sons that Death of a Salesman touches on, I know that while there are universal similarities, there are also vast differences.
I’m not sure what direction my future will take and where the fates may eventually lead me. As any dramatic writing teacher will tell you, it’s not the destination, but the journey that is most important. I honor the fact that the play stirred up thoughts and emotions of family, respect, and self-determination and that it made for one exhilarating piece of theater.