‘Salesman is Dead and Gone’ follows Willy Loman to the grave
A review of “The Salesman is Dead and Gone” at Richard Hugo House through Dec. 21, 2013. The Splinter Group show is directed by Paul Budraitis.
Seattle Times theater critic
‘The Salesman is Dead and Gone’
Thurs-Sat.(ends Saturday) at Richard Hugo House, 1634 11th Ave., Seattle; $15 (888-377-4510 or
Imagine Arthur Miller’s American tragedy “Death of a Salesman” as a visual-aural tone poem, delivered from the afterlife.
That is what director Paul Budraitis has done in the next-dimension dreamscape of his new performance piece, “The Salesman is Dead and Gone” at Richard Hugo House.
The archetypal mid-20th-century American salesman Willy Loman (played here with silent intensity by Mark Waldstein) awakens, panic-stricken, in a coffin filled with sand, set in a dun-colored room/grave.
Outside, a dark sky is strung with glittering stars. Inside, Willy occupies a tomb of memory, where protoplasmic projections and sounds from his troubled past (mainly via sound snippets of Miller’s play, from a “Death of a Salesman” film starring Dustin Hoffman) waft through to haunt and confound him.
Some of the visions Budraitis conjures — working with a sensitive palette of light and shadow, film and prop magic — are startling, arresting, tender, as Willy revisits the feelings and encounters that led to his suicide at the end of Miller’s drama. A miniature tree suddenly sprouts up in the coffin. A bit of an old Jack Benny radio skit pipes in from a receptor that resembles a dollhouse. Wrenching dialogue, a dance with his wife and some fraught horseplay with his son Biff are heard as if from afar.
The piece suffers in spots from a glacial slowness, and its aura of heavy, grainy gloom and failure gets oppressive. Ultimately, “The Salesman is Dead and Gone” doesn’t help us penetrate Willy’s psyche: he seems just as befuddled and lost in death as in life. But the vivid visual imagination Budraitis invests employs here beguiles. It’s like nothing else we’ve seen lately from a Seattle theater artist.
Misha Berson: email@example.com