'Death of a Salesman' actors discuss where they found the inspiration for their roles

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Saturday, December 17, 2022
'Death of a Salesman' actors discuss inspiration for their roles
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The actors from 'Death of Salesman' discuss where they drew inspiration from while learning how to play their roles. Sandy Kenyon has the story.

BROADWAY -- Eyewitness News Entertainment Reporter Sandy Kenyon says "Death of a Salesman" is one of the best productions he's ever seen on Broadway and this week he got to interview some of the cast.

Sharon Clarke is the first Black performer to play Mrs. Loman and recognized the importance of the honor.

"Making history baby!" Clarke said.

Wendell Pierce, who plays Willie Loman, agreed with Clarke during an interview with Sandy Kenyon.

WATCH | The Sitdown: 'Death of a Salesman' actors discuss their roles

Both stars have found a way to give new meaning to the classic text and make the play more accessible to a wider audience. As Mrs. Loman says: "Attention must be paid!"

"What happens when you have an African-American Loman family is the acute amplification of all of the themes of the play," Pierce said. "When Black audiences see it, they feel it was written uniquely for their experience. It's a group of people that understand the paradox of The American Dream."

"I think every kind of person can look at this in this light and see themselves," Clarke said.

What began in London has flourished on Broadway.

Clarke, who lives there, explained British audiences are more polite and reserved reactions until the end.

It's a contrast to New Yorkers who are a very vocal bunch.

"You know that people are with you," Clarke said. "You hear lots of uh-huh or Whoo or 'don't do it' or 'no' or large intakes of breath, and you know that people are with the story."

They tell the story of Willie and his family by drawing on their past and their parents.

"I thought about the strong women that I was growing up with," said Clarke. "Those women that taught me how to be a strong, Black woman."

She found the key to her character in her own mom who was "a strong loyal, opinionated, fiercely loving woman" from Jamaica.

"I thought how would my mom deal with this situation?" Clarke said.

Pierce recalled his father, a World War II veteran.

"I've always known the men in my family in the face of insurmountable odds to fight," Pierce said. "Yeah, to fight with fire."

His dad came to the opening of "Death of a Salesman," and now 97 years old, his father lived long enough to see his son's triumph.

"I have had a wonderful 35-plus year career, but at times I've always felt like I'm just that small boat looking for a harbor," Pierce said. "I'm looking for my opportunity to leave a legacy and leave a mark on this world and on the work that I do and the business that I'm in."

Now, he need look no further.

"I was given this precious gift to play this role," he said.

Pierce was approached after a recent performance by a 100-year-old member of the audience. She had seen the original production of the play that shook up Broadway back in 1949.

The lady had watched numerous productions since then, and now she had a simple message for him: "You moved me the most."

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