Lyric’s ‘Salesman’: The denial of an American dream

Paula Plum, Ken Baltin, Joseph Marrella and Kelby T. Akin in "Death of a Salesman." Photo: Mark S. Howard

Paula Plum, Ken Baltin, Joseph Marrella and Kelby T. Akin in “Death of a Salesman.” Photo: Mark S. Howard

BOSTON — At a time when veterans were returning from World War II and, after defeating the Germans and the Japanese, it seemed anything was possible, playwright Arthur Miller was coming forth with his cautionary tales about the American Dream.
He explored the fallout when capitalist greed trumps honor in 1947’s “All My Sons,” and then the results when a man finds his total life’s work hasn’t amounted to anything worth living for in 1949’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Death of a Salesman.”
It is a tribute to the work that after having seen many different productions of “Salesman” — that even after having seen actors such as Hal Holbrook and Brian Dennehy take on the role — you can take a new Willy Loman and embrace him all over again, this time in the current production of “Death of a Salesman” at the Lyric Stage Company.
There are many different avenues available to get to the same place, and in this production Ken Baltin as Willy and Paula Plum as Linda find their way to theatrical magic with the guidance of director Spiro Veloudos.
After many years on the road, the sample cases seem to have gotten bigger and heavier for 63-year-old Willy Loman, who has ground out a steady if unspectacular living as a New England sales representative for a New York City firm.
It wasn’t that hard surviving “on a shoeshine and a smile” at a time when the traveling salesman was considered a friend and we welcomed folks selling vacuum cleaners and cosmetics into our homes. But now the salesman is tired, and his relationships with the buyers in New England are frayed and just as tired.
His home is old and tired, like Willy, even though he is so close to the finish line when it comes to the mortgage he can taste it.
Baltin carries the weight of disappointment and despair on his shoulders, and it makes the weight of those sample cases that much greater.
Anyone who has followed the length and breadth of Paula Plum’s career may feel she is still too young and vibrant to play Linda, but she gamely disappears into the role as a dedicated caregiver whose concern is etched onto her face.
Kelby T. Akin is Biff, Willy’s 34-year-old oldest son, a rugged, handsome sort, haunted his entire life for “what might have been” after he threw away an athletic scholarship after flunking math as a senior
It is Willy’s refusal to see Biff for what he is — and Biff’s insistence that his father face up to what he is — that have father and son constantly at each other’s throats after Biff arrives home after an extended stay out West.
Joseph Marella’s younger brother Happy seems determined to float along in life, having his way with women when he can and making no impact on the business world, never willing to grow up and get serious about life. But his is a smaller star in Willy’s universe, and thus he escapes the same scrutiny.
Willy, of course, is not entirely without blame, since he lacked the boldness, drive and initiative of his deceased older brother Ben, seen in flashbacks and given vigorous life by Will McGarrahan.
Then there was the “incident in Boston” that stuck a knife in the relationship between Willy and Biff, or even when pride prevents him from accepting the charity employment offered by kindly neighbor Charlie, warmly portrayed by Larry Coen with great bonhomie.
Victor Shopov has a fine supporting turn as Charlie’s son Bernard, a nerdy sort who worshipped Biff as a boy but ultimately left him in the dust as an successful lawyer and family man
Omar Robinson as Willy’s boss Howard shines in the heartbreaking scene when Willy, coming in with a desperate plea to get off the road, is instead given the gate.
The most electric moment in this “Salesman” is Plum as Linda eviscerating her clueless sons for their neglect and apathy as Willy is circling the drain one last time.
The sound design and original music by Dewey Dellay add much to what director Veloudos is trying to convey. Veloudos, his cast and his designers have put their own stamp on “Salesman” while also adhering to the elements that have made it one of the greatest American plays.
The Lyric Stage Company production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” Directed by Spiro Veloudos. Scenic Design, Janie E. Howland; Costume Design, Gail Astrid Buckley; Lighting Design, Karen Perlow; Original Compositions, Dewey Dellay; Production Stage Manager, Nerys Powell; Assistant Stage Manager, Greg Nash; Assistant Scenic Design, Anat Mano. through March 15 at Lyric Stage Company, 140 Clarendon Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-585-5678 or