Amer­i­can night­mare

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS - Jen­nifer Levin The New Mex­i­can

Death of a Sales­man starts its run at Santa Fe Play­house

The fa­mous first sen­tence of Tol­stoy’s Anna Karen­ina — “All happy fam­i­lies are alike; each un­happy fam­ily is un­happy in its own way” — is in­struc­tive up to a point. Each fam­ily has its own story. But when un­der­stood through a mod­ern psy­cho­an­a­lytic lens, un­hap­pi­ness within one fam­ily can usu­ally be as­cribed to is­sues shared by many fam­i­lies. The shame of abuse, ad­dic­tion, spousal phi­lan­der­ing, or un­treated men­tal ill­ness can turn a fam­ily in­side out. The ef­fort it takes to re­tain a sem­blance of nor­malcy or keep peace in a house­hold can look like love or even hap­pi­ness, depend­ing on who’s look­ing. How out­siders in­ter­pret the truth within a fam­ily is prob­a­bly linked to how they keep se­crets in their own homes. In Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-win­ning play, Death

of a Sales­man, open­ing Fri­day, July 17, at Santa Fe Play­house — the theater’s an­nual col­lab­o­ra­tion with Iron­weed Pro­duc­tions — Willy Lo­man could be viewed as a lov­ing, sup­port­ive fa­ther who’s reached his wit’s end due to bad luck at work and in­cip­i­ent de­men­tia. The iconic Amer­i­can trav­el­ing sales­man, played by Camp­bell Martin, has been driv­ing er­rat­i­cally, talk­ing to him­self, and get­ting lost in reverie. He is quick to anger and fre­quently con­tra­dicts him­self, though Willy has al­ways been out­spo­ken and de­mand­ing. His wife, Linda (El­iz­a­beth Wise­man), might be gen­uinely self­less and de­voted to his hap­pi­ness, lov­ingly an­tic­i­pat­ing his moods and needs. Then again, this is how any­one who’s ever lived with some­one like Willy learns to keep things calm, hap­pily or oth­er­wise.

“My first im­pres­sion of her was that she was re­ally soft, be­cause she’s so pro­tec­tive of Willy,” Wise­man said. “Then when I got into it, I re­al­ized she’s re­ally tough and strong. But I had to find that. I don’t come from a very demon­stra­tive fam­ily.”

“When I first started high­light­ing my lines in the script, I re­al­ized Willy never shuts up,” Martin said. “How he’s got­ten though life is that his per­spec­tive on his sur­round­ings is very dif­fer­ent from re­al­ity. His per­spec­tive is amaz­ing. He’s a dreamer — he’s been sold on the Amer­i­can dream.”

Death of a Sales­man, which had its first per­for­mance in 1949, is still a timely play be­cause the myth of the Amer­i­can dream re­mains a rel­e­vant theme, said Scott Har­ri­son, Iron­weed’s artis­tic di­rec­tor and di­rec­tor of this pro­duc­tion. “You can al­ways feel like you’re never enough, that you’ll never have enough. This play hits you in the gut. It’s about peo­ple who don’t have a Hall­mark kind of hope, but a gritty, re­silient hope to make things bet­ter.”

“It would be easy to fall into a trap [as an ac­tor] in the way they butt heads or raise their voices, but be­neath all of that is care and con­cern,” said Peter Chap­man, who plays the el­der son, Biff, a for­mer high school football hero. “One of the things that Scott has un­der­scored is that they all love each other very much.”

Biff has re­cently re­turned from a stint out West, work­ing the land — an oc­cu­pa­tion his par­ents do not re­spect. His brother, Happy ( Jonathan Har­rell), works in sales and se­duces women as a pas­time. Nei­ther brother likes his life or can en­vi­sion his fu­ture. The only thing they know how to do well is to con­tin­u­ally re­as­sure Willy that he will have im­por­tant, wealthy, well-liked sons. It’s the way Willy mea­sures his own suc­cess. The play weaves

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