“Willy Loman is all of us.”
Joyce Carol Oates
How amazing to see an article called, “’Salesman’ tells today’s story” not in the entertainment section of USA Today, but in the “Money” section! According to writer Adam Shell, the “Message of the 1949 play is hauntingly applicable now.” The play he’s referring to is Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller and though it was written more than 60 years ago, the questions and tragic themes it raises with bruising honesty still ring true. There’s a universality about Willy Loman and his struggle to keep from slipping off the edge of the American Dream that makes his story as old as time and as new as the headlines about Occupy Wall Street.
As a 60-something, Willy has no hope of retiring. He’s been on the road for more than thirty years, yet he’s still crushed by debt and unable to keep his head above water in the face of never-ending payments for his refrigerator, washing machine, roof, and life insurance. Then, on top of all his money woes, he’s fired. His two sons, Biff and Happy, are faring no better: they’re stuck in dead-end jobs and can’t seem to find their way out of them. How many of us all around the country are facing much the same situation?
According to the article, “The play’s themes of dashed dreams, economic inequality, and the brutally competitive capitalist system that creates a society of haves and have nots,” are sparking discussions in middle-class homes everywhere. When Mike Nichols agreed to direct the play’s latest revival, he found himself delving deeper into Miller’s powerful work. And when he did, he found that it was “more and more about the moment” and less about the 1940s.
When the play first opened, Nichols said, doctors sometimes had to be called in at performances because some of the men who saw it couldn’t stop crying. They saw themselves in Willy and connected with him emotionally. The same is true today. People are breaking down and sobbing at the Barrymore Theatre, overcome by the emotions the play stirs up within them. What a powerful story Arthur Miller told when he summoned Willy to life. Bravo, Arthur, bravo!