LONDON — The drained outdated guy has had an surprising transfusion. And he has seldom appeared extra alive — or extra doomed.
What’s maximum sudden about Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell’s stunning revival of Arthur Miller’s “Dying of a Salesman,” which I mercifully stuck close to the tip of its West Finish run right here on the Piccadilly Theater, is how important it’s. As Willy Loman, the identify persona of this epochal 1949 drama, lives out his ultimate, despondent days, what has continuously felt like a plodding stroll to the grave in earlier incarnations turns into a propulsive — and compulsively watchable — dance of loss of life.
Portrayed through a superb Wendell Pierce (“The Cord” and “Treme” on tv), Willy lacks the stooped shoulders and slumped again with which he’s historically related. (It’s the posture immortalized within the ebook duvet for the unique script.)
This electrically alert and keen Willy just about all the time stands ramrod tall on this manufacturing, which originated on the Younger Vic Theater, although you sense it’s an effort. Once we first see him, newly returned to his Brooklyn house from an aborted street shuttle, he bends to place down the pattern case he holds in every hand. And for a painful 2nd, he registers how a lot it hurts him to straighten up once more.
He has proven an indication of weak point. And that’s one thing he can by no means find the money for to do, no longer even together with his unflinchingly supportive spouse, Linda (the ambitious Sharon D. Clarke).
That is partially as a result of Willy is 60, running in a Darwinian industry that belongs to the younger and the have compatibility. However on this model, he has any other, heavier handicap: Willy is a black guy in a country the place white is the colour of luck.
Whilst he has absorbed and abides through the mythology and laws of the American dream of self-advancement, there’s part of Willy that worries the percentages are fatally stacked towards him. The adrenaline that classes via Pierce’s efficiency by no means we could up, even — no particularly — when Willy is recalling a supposedly happier, more straightforward previous. It’s no surprise that this overcharged protection machine is in spite of everything beginning to brief circuit.
Elliott is speedy proving herself to be some of the nice transformative alchemists of vintage performs — moving views in ways in which make us see the acquainted with virgin eyes. She does so with out changing the innate substance of such works, sparsely reaching her alterations from inside of.
Her Tony Award-winning interpretation of Tony Kushner’s “Angels in The us,” observed on Broadway in 2018, offered a New York on the top of the AIDS disaster as a land of never-ending evening. Extra radically, her London-born, Broadway-bound revival of the 1970 Stephen Sondheim musical “Corporate” remodeled the unhappily swinging unmarried at its middle from a person into a lady.
That gender reversal required little textual surgical procedure instead of adjustments of pronouns. And the “Salesman” that Elliott has devised with Cromwell leaves the unique script intact. However there’s a lot more than colorblind casting occurring right here.
“Salesman” has all the time been a learn about in cancerous denial, an inside portrait of a person lengthy out of contact with who he’s. (Miller had in the beginning considered calling his play “The Inside His Head.”) This manufacturing reveals the determined exertion in such denial, the paradoxical power within the exhaustion of gambling a dropping recreation for too many seasons.
When Willy summons idealized reminiscences of previous days together with his circle of relatives — focused on his sons, the adored, firstborn Biff and the more youthful, attention-starved Glad (Sope Dirisu and Natey Jones, each first-rate) — those visions take at the stylized artificiality of duration ads or burlesque sketches, by which liked watchwords of uplift don’t seem to be simply spoken however on occasion sung.
The idylls are punctuated through the discordant sounds of a tape rewinding at hyper-speed. However there’s candy track in Willy’s head, too. The display starts (and, much less judiciously, ends) with a gospel hymn promising blessed relaxation and reduction. And on occasion, although it unnerves him, Willy hears the wandering melody of the flute his father performed (rendered right here as a clarinet).
That father materializes in short as a gradual, spectral frontiersman from an previous age. (It feels poetically suitable that this apparition is portrayed through the display’s composer and musical director, Femi Temowo.)
Willy doesn’t communicate a lot about his dad, except for to mention that he moved the circle of relatives so much. And we’re vouchsafed a fleeting, unsettling symbol that explains why, of a white guy with a rifle skilled at the again of the music-playing father. It’s an apparition that comes and is going like lightning, and you’ll even ponder whether your eyes deceived you.
Such moments are a part of an impressed, proceeding trend on this manufacturing, by which unsightly truths flare up best to be extinguished. The similar rhythms animate Pierce’s efficiency. Willy explodes with out caution when his next-door neighbor, Charley (Trevor Cooper), asks him, “If you find yourself you going to develop up, boy?” (That “boy” is without doubt one of the few interpolations within the script.)
Or watch how Willy’s fedora morphs from a boulevardier’s proudly brandished accent to one thing like a humbly proffered beggar’s hat. That’s within the heartbreaking scene when Willy, begging his younger boss (Matthew Seadon-Younger) to not hearth him, softly grabs the shoulder of the opposite guy, who recoils as though he have been stung.
Such moments are by no means lingered over. And if this “Salesman” have been retooled to be only about race, it will shrink and oversimplify Miller’s play. As a substitute, race expands and exacerbates Willy’s suppressed fears that the sector regards him as outcast, a loser, a clown.
The tightly stressed out depth of Pierce’s efficiency lends a brand new ferocity to the disorder of the Loman circle of relatives dynamic. The scenes between Willy and Biff (whom Dirisu endows with complete Manner angst) have the wrenching, visceral price of complete Oedipal tragedy. And the magnificent Clarke (who arrives on Broadway later this season within the identify position of “Caroline, or Exchange”) transforms a personality continuously portrayed as a whimpering doormat into a powerful, self-aware girl who is aware of the decisions she has made and is made up our minds to honor them.
However there’s no longer a efficiency right here that doesn’t serve the manufacturing’s governing imaginative and prescient of Willy’s sense of lifestyles as he maximum longs — and fears — it to be. Even the in most cases throwaway a part of a lady with whom Willy has a one-night stand assumes a magnified, haunting risk as embodied through Victoria Hamilton-Barritt.
The lifestyles summoned here’s a hastily tarnishing phantasm, constructed on crumbling values that Willy has fought towards himself to consider in. That little space in Brooklyn, which he has labored so laborious to care for and repay, is rendered in Anna Fleischle’s set (lighted through Aideen Malone) with ephemeral-looking furnishings, doorways and home windows all suspended on wires. The entirety can disappear in a twinkling.
When a singer in a cafe scene is heard crooning, “They may be able to’t take that clear of that me,” the ones hopeful, wistful lyrics sound unbearably merciless. On this “Salesman,” when Willy, in an extraordinary second of perception, says he feels “more or less brief,” the phobia that he in the end owns not anything — no longer even his personal identification — hasn’t ever felt so profound.
Dying of a Salesman
Via Saturday on the Piccadilly Theater, London; thepiccadillytheatre.com. Working time: three hours 15 mins.