Arthur Miller connected to something raw in America’s underbelly with “Death of a Salesman,” and that intensity lives on — nearly 70 years later — in Yellow Tree Theatre’s absorbing production.
That’s due in part to the Osseo theater’s intimate space, which means no one in the audience is more than a few feet from the action. The biggest attraction here is the terrific cast, led by Patrick Coyle as the doomed Willy Loman.
It’s no more of a spoiler to talk about Willy’s fate than Hamlet’s at this point. After all, his end is right there in the title. It’s the journey he takes on his last, fateful day that has seared this sad vision of the broken American dream into our consciousness.
Willy is a lifelong salesman, plying his trade up and down New England throughout the first part of the 20th century. Along with his wife, Linda, they’ve raised two boys. They have one mortgage payment left on the house. Sounds perfect.
There are massive cracks, however. The Lomans are struggling to pay the bills. The sons are drifting aimlessly through their youth. Worst of all, Willy has lost his ability to sell — and is spending large chunks of time talking to himself, and constantly reliving events from the past.
As the play unfolds, it’s clear that none of the Lomans have been avoiding the hard truths about their lives. Willy was never a great salesman. Son Hap seems to be stuck on the same treadmill as his father, while son Biff has spent his adult life drifting from one job to another in the West, desperate to make a living with his hands.
All of this is clearly drawn through Craig Johnson’s tight directing, Lynn Musgrave’s evocative sound design and Michael Hoover’s simple but effective set.
Miller’s piece really is an actor’s playground, and it gets vibrant and moving performances from the leads. From the moment we see Coyle’s Willy, in the shadows but clearly exhausted and worn down, the actor has us in the palm of his hand as he leads us deep into the mind of this troubled man.
The same is true of Jason Peterson’s Biff, Damian Leverett’s Happy and Laura Esping’s Linda, who are put through the emotional wringer by the exhausting Willy. The balance of the company does solid work, especially David Croal as the specter of Willy’s more successful brother, Ben, and Carolyn Pool as “The Woman” with whom Willy finds succor on the road.
Ed Huyck is a Twin Cities theater critic.