Sandy Kenyon reviews 'extraordinary' Broadway revival of 'Death of a Salesman'

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Monday, October 10, 2022
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A new revival of "Death of a Salesman" is making history in its new version to now feature African Americans in the lead roles. Sandy Kenyon has the story.

NEW YORK CITY -- More than 70 years have passed since the premiere of "Death of a Salesman" on Broadway, but a new revival is making history in its own way because this new version is the first to feature African Americans in the lead roles.

The play has been given new life thanks to Wendell Pierce and Sharon D. Clarke who play Willie and Linda Loman as they have never been played before.

Both characters are equally powerful and equally compelling, which gives this production a balance rarely achieved in a play with one man at its heart.

"I put 34 years into this firm, Howard, and now I can't pay my insurance," Willie tells his boss who has forced the veteran salesman to work strictly on a commission and now seeks to get rid of him altogether.

Willie refuses to be cowed, telling the young man, "You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away. A man is not a piece of fruit."

Pierce's Willie is more vibrant than others and more determined not to give up without a fight.

Rather than single notes of sadness, his version has a symphony of regrets and might-have-beens.

In Clarke's Linda, he has a more equal partner -- playing in such a magnificent way as to give new meaning to some of the most famous lines in American theater.

"He's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him," she tells her two sons about their father. "So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog."

Khris Davis and McKinley Belcher III proved more than equal to the challenge of sharing the stage with the two titans.

Veteran Andre De Shields lends new meaning to the smaller but crucial role of Willie's departed brother.

Miranda Cromwell has directed them and the rest of the cast brilliantly.

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Together, they have given extra meaning to the term revival and brought it closer to the original meaning of the word by giving this tragedy, first performed in 1949, new strength and vitality.

Together, they make this story timeless and above all, universal.

Entertainment reporter Sandy Kenyon left the theater deeply moved.

This "Death of a Salesman" touched the innermost recesses of my heart so that I ceased to be a critic and became instead a son.

I found myself reflecting on my own late parents even though Rob and Lindy Kenyon bore little resemblance to the father and mother of the play (though they were also in sales).

I am very careful about recommending any Broadway show because they are all so expensive, but very so often I see one that is so extraordinary that it warrants a recommendation.

In this case, the cost of a ticket seems to be a small price to pay for such a transformative experience.

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