(Matt Wolf’s article appeared in The New York Times, 5/30; via Pam Green.)
LONDON — This city’s season-long love affair with Arthur Miller reaches an intriguing if emotionally muted conclusion with “Death of a Salesman,” the 1949 Pulitzer Prize winner running at the Young Vic through July 13. The same author’s “All My Sons” can be seen just minutes away at the Old Vic through June 8, and barely has a week passed this year without one Miller title or another on view somewhere in London.
The difference this time around is that the Loman family is black, thereby allowing a top-rank set of actors access to roles in which they wouldn’t usually be cast. As you watch the American actor Wendell Pierce (from “The Wire”) bring a wounded dignity to the hapless Willy Loman, you can only applaud the marriage of performer and part. It’s equally exciting to see this year’s mighty Olivier Award-winning best actress in a musical, Sharon D. Clarke, shifting into a quieter gear to play the eternally loving Linda Loman. (Their older son, Biff, is played by the fast-rising Arinzé Kene, who scored two Olivier nominations this year for his play “Misty.”)
Making the Lomans black changes the dynamics — several other cast members are white, as is one of the play’s two directors, Marianne Elliott (the other, Miranda Cromwell, identifies as mixed) — and it may seem curious that the issue of race isn’t directly explored. The obvious reason is that such discussions don’t feature in Miller’s text. But the script makes much of Willy’s desire to be liked, and you can’t help but wonder whether an African-American man in post-World War II Brooklyn wouldn’t worry more about being accepted.
There’s a telling, if fleeting, moment when a white waiter looks judgmentally at Willy, but race here remains the elephant in the room: Laudable in its embrace of talent across the board, the production, you feel, could dig a bit deeper still.
Photo: The New York Times