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Death of a Salesman, with its outstanding reputation so recently made on Broadway, is a highly ambitious undertaking for an amateur dramatic group, no matter how high its calibre. Last night's performance in Sanders, however, vindicated beyond a doubt the resourcefulness, imagination, and skill of the HDC. The present production is theatrical achievement of the first rank.
Understanding, coupled with entirely effective production, is the foundation of the play's success. And although the distribution of praise is a difficult matter in this case, first honors must go to director Steve Aaron for his searching interpretation of the play, and for the manner in which he has brought the speech and action of all his principle characters to bear on the revelation and comprehension of Willy Loman's final, tragic assertion.
As the paradoxical Willy, Dean Gitter shows flawlessly the inner collapse of a man who cannot understand himself, and who nearly imposes his own confusion on the lives of both his sons. In the role of Biff, shocked into a tough honesty which leads to his final knowledge of both his father and himself, Colgate Salisbury shows understanding and mastery of an important and intricate part. Between them, they bring the audience a father and son alike, desperately needing roots and a tangible grasp of life, struggling against the poisonous and destructive vanity of dreams. Inane, pompous, and deeply sympathetic, Gitter plays a Willy whose final grasp for something to hold in his hand still springs from an illusion, and is meaningless to all but Biff.
Patricia Hess, as Linda Loman, strives with the power of love to save her family. Miss Hess portrays both the depth and the ineffectuality of Linda's feeling with a sure and delicate touch, and the almost youthful integrity of her hope contrasts finely with the desperate delusion of Willy's. Colin Chase, as Happy, sensitively uncovers the insecurity and frustration that lie beneath the younger brother's painful optimism.
Although he delivers final judgement at the salesman's grave, Charlie, his best friend, never knew the man's needs. John Fenn turns in the best performance of his career in the role of the sympathetic and successful neighbor, who could not see Willy's deep lack, the emptiness of which he dreamed most of all. It is Earl Edgerton, in the half-real role of Uncle Ben, who represents this dream. Properly stiff, arrogant, and inhuman, Edgerton conveys the symbolic nature of his part: the power and glory of tangible success, of almost physical conquest, a confusion of real and unreal in Willy's groping mind.
In all the probing and drawing out of these characters, top-level production aids Aaron's direction. Donald Bourne's semi-abstract setting facilitates the intrusions into Willy's mind, and with the addition of Jordan Jelke's complex and intelligent lighting, makes the many swift transitions of mood and locale neat and effective. Caldwell Titcomb's striking musical score powerfully augments these effects, and is always appropriate. Happily, considering the intricacy of the production, there is a professional polish in meeting cues which characterizes the entire play.
In minor roles, Stephen Stearns, Lee Jeffries, Philip McCoy and others turn in performances easily up to the high standard of the whole.
Balancing Willy and Biff during the first act, the production builds the groundwork of final understanding at the expense of naturalistic melodrama, and hence loses a certain element of blatant dynamism. This preparation, however, results in a shocking comprehension which heightens the power of the second act, and leads the audience--as far as is possible--to a complete grasp of Miller's play. To force the ultimate meaning from Willy Loman's death and still preserve its impact is a feat of dramatic sensitivity and talent. The HDC has done it.
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