American stories are about American people. When a play is beautifully written, well directed, and passionately performed, the ethnic, religious, cultural or racial characteristics of the players melt away, allowing the truth of the story to shine through. Arthur Miller’s tragedy DEATH OF A SALESMAN is everyone’s tragedy. This story, the Pulitzer Prize Award and Tony Award winning play of 1949, still resonates and only intensifies with the tale centering on a family of African American descent. Currently playing at Plays and Players Theatre, it is an example of the exquisite writing of Arthur Miller, combined with the fresh vision of director Ozzie Jones and GoKash Productions.
DEATH OF A SALESMAN is the story the deterioration of a man, Willy Loman (Kash Goins), his faltering career and the subsequent loss of his identity. The family that could rally around him often loses their way. Willy’s wife Linda Loman (Tamara Woods) is tried and true, with loyalty and love leading her way. Two grown sons who have returned home for a visit as the play begins, Biff (Eric Carter) and Happy (Carlo Campbell), are in the midst of their own midlife crises. The unfolding story explores familial relationships deeply, and the enduring impact of these connections on the individual.
This cast breathes life into characters with such realism that what might feel dated or contrived rings out with utter believability. Traditionally played by a white, 60-something man, Willy Loman is the collapsing patriarch of a family. Played with passion, and raw emotion, Kash Goins makes Willy’s struggle his own. Goins sweats Willy’s sweat, loves Willy’s women and children, muddles up Willy’s stories, decides Willy’s fate, and bleeds Willy’s blood. Willy Loman is one of those roles of a lifetime. Goins owns the character, commanding the stage with his presence. Goins juxtaposes strength and utter vulnerability, confusion and clarity, hope and despair, abiding love and contempt, fear and bravery with a unique brilliance.
Tamara Woods as Linda Loman delivers the mature and steady performance necessary in Linda. Woods presence on stage demands attention, and conveys as a part of her portrayal a deep spirituality. The Linda Loman of Woods creation is never confused or purposeless in her direction. Woods creates and glues together this family unit, and rightfully holds tight to the reigns of the family even while it crumbles around her. She at once lifts up, and then casts away with such complete dignity as to convey her rock solid matriarchal hold on the family unit. This is a different kind of Linda Loman, and she commands respect.
Biff is the older of the two sons. Eric Carter brings out the bluntness in Biff, the truth telling, eye opening, hardened, living testament to and embodiment of the consequences of his father’s faults. Carter’s conflicted portrayal is truthful and raw. He is likable because of his wish to at once tell and conceal the truths of life. Carter’s Biff is a true-to-life Biff without a hint of caricature. Carter’s Biff builds up his mother, shoots down his father, lives his life without illusion, with both feet planted firmly on the ground. Carter is not acting, he is saving souls. Carlo Campbell as Happy has a tricky spot to fill in the family. A success story? A lost soul? A product of his father’s imagination? Campbell shows Happy’s debauchery and disillusionment along with a childlike belief system in his father and older brother. Needing love and experiencing abandonment, Happy is owned by Campbell, with distinction. Portraying grown men smoking together in a childhood bedroom, high school students on the way to the big game, and children who forever live in their father’s imagination, Carter and Campbell convey the harmony, clashes, and ultimate connection expected of brothers.
Richard Bradford as Bernard delivers a steady-handed performance, growing from the concerned warning signal of the doom of the Lomans, to the loving and steadfast success story. Bradford is likable and strong in his portrayal. Monroe Barrick as Charley does not make for the most sympathetic character in the show, but Barrick brings believability and skill to the stage. Barrick portrays Charley as a practically unflappable and forever loyal friend. Mike Way as Ben is the mystic who is all too real. Unlike the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, Ben’s concern for time never leads Way to rush. Ben’s journey to the jungle, and Willy’s rabbit hole, is one Way portrays with quiet power. Roni Graham, June Patterson, and Daira Guerra are the females who round out the cast. Each brings her own style to the stage. Andre N. Jones as Stanley and Steve Lunger as Howard each have small roles, but make them memorable.
Ozzie Jones’ attention to detail with the direction makes this ensemble shine. Adding slight twists to the story, richness to the sound, and hints of the cultural background of this Loman family, never distracts, always adds, and definitively deepens the impact of the story. Jones makes this Loman family real, creating a strong ensemble, and story-tells with a spiritual nature.
This is a true ensemble piece. Chemistry between the actors is palpable. They behave like a family. They are a family we are a part of, we have met, and we know. The audience forgets that this is a play, and that actors are portraying characters.
DEATH OF A SALESMAN plays through August 17 and should not be missed. This play is not the study of a white family or a black family; it is the study of a family. This production is for everyone who happens to be part of an American family.
DEATH OF A SALESMAN
by Arthur Miller
Directed by Ozzie Jones
Presented by GoKash Productions
July 30 – August 17, 2014 (Wed-Sun)
Plays & Players Theatre
1714 Delancy Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103