(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 1/ 2; via Pam Green. Those who like Death of a Salesman may also enjoy End Zone, playing at Dixon Place, 2/25.)
An electrifying revival, starring a heartbreaking Wendell Pierce, reimagines Willy Loman as a black man in a white man’s world.
LONDON — The tired old man has had an unexpected transfusion. And he has seldom seemed more alive — or more doomed.
What’s most surprising about Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell’s beautiful revival of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” which I mercifully caught near the end of its West End run here at the Piccadilly Theater, is how vital it is. As Willy Loman, the title character of this epochal 1949 drama, lives out his last, despondent days, what has often felt like a plodding walk to the grave in previous incarnations becomes a propulsive — and compulsively watchable — dance of death.
Portrayed by a splendid Wendell Pierce (“The Wire” and “Treme” on television), Willy lacks the stooped shoulders and slumped back with which he is traditionally associated. (It’s the posture immortalized in the book cover for the original script.)
This electrically alert and eager Willy nearly always stands ramrod tall in this production, which originated at the Young Vic Theater, though you sense it’s an effort. When we first see him, newly returned to his Brooklyn home from an aborted road trip, he bends to put down the sample case he holds in each hand. And for a painful second, he registers how much it hurts him to straighten up again.