Curtain Call

Regardless of occupational specifics, we are all in sales.

In 21st century America, where there is nothing left to manafacture but personalities, we spend hours every day building and promoting online profiles, striving to increase followers. We are only as valuable as the breadth of our influence. At the end of the day, how liked we are is as notable as the quality or value of anything we might produce.

“All things being equal, people do business with people they like. All things not being equal, they still do,” John C. Maxwell surmises in his 2007 book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. This so-called golden rule of sales echoing Dale Carnegie’s 1936 treatise How to Win Friends and Influence People is the tragedy of Arthur Miller’s great everyman Willy Loman.

The playwright’s 1949 Pulitizer-prize winning tragedy Death of a Salesman is so well-known, we might forget to revisit it. But it has never had the potential to resonate more poignantly than with today’s 99 percentile. Like Loman, we find ourselves facing a void where the American Dream used to be, wondering if the secret to success lies in making a few more friends.

Gaslight Theatre Company will present Death of a Salesman at The Mellow Theater at Lackawanna College in Scranton this weekend under the direction of Rich Kramer.

Kramer works as a CPA when not in the theater, but he comes from a family of salesman ­- even his sister is in the biz – and feels a biographical connection to the show.

“I had actually bought the book version in 2000 when my dad died. I wanted to use some of it for his eulogy,” he told ec and dc when we stopped in to observe a recent rehearsal.

The production marks his directoral debut. A life-time actor, Kramer has long held the notion he might someday portray Loman. Later he realized that he might better be able to convey his feelings about the script and understanding of how important it is by directing it.

Miller’s play finds Loman in his mid 60s, aging too quickly with his wife in the tree-speckled Brooklyn neighborhood where they raised their sons. One-time football star Biff (Billy Joe Herbert), now a ranch hand, has come home to visit. Brother Happy sleeps over in honor of his brother’s return, and “the boys” attempt to fall asleep in their childhood bedroom is thwarted by the sound of their father talking to himself deliriously in the next room.

Actor John Sherrick plays the “tired to the death” Loman with dark eye circles and quivering lower lip. He anxiously shifts between the play’s present and world of Loman’s impossibly idyllic memories, which often play out at the same time. The character’s suffocating language references bricks and walls, closed versus open windows, and burning woods. For a powerful actress like Carol Warholak Sweeney, the challenge in playing the surfacedly complacent wife, Linda Loman, is in not “coming across too Sarah Bernhardt,” as Kramer warned in notes after running Act One. As Biff, Billy Joe Herbert visibly struggles with the temptation to spill the secret that’s been tormenting him. Matthew Hinton’s Happy “constantly lowers his ideals” in a struggle to conform and then seeks to comfort himself from the disappointment in the company of anonymous women.

Theater, too, can be a popularity contest when it comes down to box office reality. Earlier this week, Kramer was inclined to give his cast and crew a motivational pep talk to the contrary.

“At the end of the day it’s not about satisfying anybody, It’s about being truthful to the work.”

- alicia grega

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