Kevin K. James, Bob Frazer, Tom McBeath, Norman Browning

Last night, I attended the opening of Death of a Salesman at the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre.

My only previous introduction to this story had been through Arthur Miller’s book. The stellar cast brought it to life with outstanding roles by Tom McBeath as Willy Loman, Donna Belleville as Linda Loman, Bob Frazer as Biff Loman and Kevin K. James as Happy Loman. Norman Browning adds some colour and panache to the play, in the role of Uncle Ben.

Particularly excellent was the confrontation between Willy and Biff in the second act. In fact, all of the characters play well off of one another while the stage set and period costumes make for a believable journey into their world.

Death of a Salesman is a tale of one man’s battle with tragic inevitability. How he interacts with his family and deals with the reality of finally losing his job brings him to the end of the line. All that Willy Loman ever wanted was to be taken off the road and work in a sales office.

Tom McBeath, Kevin K. James, Bob Frazer, Donna Belleville
[Tom McBeath, Kevin K. James, Bob Frazer, Donna Belleville]

If you’ve never seen this play, now’s your chance. Arthur Miller created a strong, yet emotionally sensitive character in Willy Loman. Living in Brooklyn as a sixty year old salesman, he constantly compares himself to Charley (Loman’s next door neighbour), who owns his own business and has an equally successful son named Bernard.

Daniel Arnold, Eric Keenleyside, Tom McBeath
[Daniel Arnold, Eric Keenleyside, Tom McBeath]

Throughout the play are flashbacks of the three boys during their high school years. Willy’s sons Biff and Happy (Hap), are better suited to life and success than geeky math wiz Bernard. Or so it seems. Willy later comes to regret the fact that both he and his sons made fun of Bernard during their high school years.

Kevin K. James, Tom McBeath, Bob Frazer
[Kevin K. James, Tom McBeath, Bob Frazer]

Linda Loman is a caring, loving mother and wife who knows little of what goes on out on the road. Willy loves her but doesn’t show her much kindness and respect. The only aspect of his job that Willy is anxious to share with her are his successes with the New England buyers while out on sales calls. He’s convinced her that his skill as a salesman will financially sustain them. However as time goes on, his sales diminish, and as they do, so does his self-worth, trust in the world, and inevitably his desire to carry on.

Donna Belleville and Tom McBeath
[Donna Belleville and Tom McBeath]

Biff’s life had already taken a turn for the worse at the end of his senior year in high school. He could have gone to university on a football scholarship, but faced a confrontation with his father that forever changed his world. His failure is something that Willy never lets him forget. In contrast to Biff, Happy Loman is a content yet unmotivated younger brother who enjoys casual sex yet hopes to marry the right woman.

Bob Frazer, Anna Cummer, Genevieve Fleming, Kevin K. James
[Bob Frazer, Anna Cummer, Genevieve Fleming, Kevin K. James]

The confrontation between Willy and Biff later in the play’s second act left me shedding a tear at the emotion it invoked. The production and cast deserve the standing ovation that they received last night. Everything about this production is top-notch. I overheard several people praising it very highly as they made their way out of the theatre.

Death of a Salesman premiered in 1949. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and throughout the years several Tony Awards and New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards. In 1951 it was adapted into a film by László Benedek, who took home that year’s Golden Globe for Best Director.

Death of a Salesman runs through March 5 at The Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company. Tickets are available online.


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