Here’s a must-read. John Lahr on the new production of “Death of a Salesman”:
Cast to a T, and beautiful in all its scenic dimensions (with Jo Mielziner’s original, 1949 set design), this staging of “Death of a Salesman” is the best I expect to see in my lifetime.
…The tears that brimmed in my eyes in those initial wordless moments receded almost as soon as the first dialogue was spoken. And at the production’s end I found myself identifying, in a way I never had before, with the woman kneeling by a grave who says, “Forgive me, dear. I can’t cry. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t cry.”
Mr. Nichols has created an immaculate monument to a great American play. It is scrupulous in its attention to all the surface details that define time, place and mood. (Ann Roth’s costumes and Brian MacDevitt’s lighting feel utterly of a piece with Mielziner and North’s original contributions.) And as staged and paced it is perhaps the most lucid “Salesman” I’ve ever seen.
…That Mr. Hoffman is one of the finest actors of his generation is beyond dispute. His screen portraits, whether in starring roles (like his Oscar-winning turn in “Capote”) or supporting ones (“The Talented Mr. Ripley,” “Boogie Nights”), are among the most memorable of recent decades. Though he was brilliant in the 2000 revival of Sam Shepard’s “True West,” his stage work has been more variable.
Certainly his performance here is more fully sustained than those in “The Seagull” (for Mr. Nichols) and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” But as a complete flesh-and-blood being, this Willy seems to emerge only fitfully. His voice pitched sonorous and low, his face a moonlike mask of unhappiness, he registers in the opening scenes as an abstract (as well as abstracted) Willy, a ghost who roams through his own life. (And yes, at 44, Mr. Hoffman never seems a credible 62.)
Mind you, there are instances of piercing emotional conviction throughout, moments you want to file and rerun in memory. Mr. Hoffman does terminal uncertainty better than practically anyone, and he’s terrific in showing the doubt that crumples Willy just when he’s trying to sell his own brand of all-American optimism. (His memory scenes with his self-made brother, played by John Glover, are superb.) What he doesn’t give us is the illusion of the younger Willy’s certainty, of the belief in false gods.