Being that it’s a role of epic, near-Lear proportions — dreams yearning above, damnation yawning below — there are as many “right” ways to play Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s timeless Death of a Salesman as there are able actors who take on the killer role. Inevitably, each actor must find his own “truths” in Willy’s Tony- and Pulitzer-winning complexity — or he’ll wither as Willy’s success, his family relationships and his self-worth erode.
The estimably able Michael Shooner assays the role in New Edgecliff Theatre’s production. His Willy is a hard-edged, hammering bully blinded by his own shoeshine. He ignores an adoring wife. He pumps his sons full of delusions while neglecting to ground them with a moral compass. He abuses friendships, blinding himself with unattainable expectations. Shooner breathes life into a Willy who’s easy enough to understand, hard to sympathize with and impossible to admire — an effective portrait of a thorny man whose tragedy is his lack of tragic proportion.
Beside him — giving what’s certain to be one of the performances of the year — is Kate Wilford as Linda Loman. Her splendidly met challenge is to create a woman who has zero illusions about her husband, who defends him at her own expense and who can and does make the hard choice of husband over sons. In Wilford, husband and sons have a Linda of strength to play against. The company of 12 is generally competent.
As Biff, Jay Woffington begins mechanically but smoothes into a provocative reading of the son who steals failure from opportunity.
At the Columbia Performance Center, director Ed Cohen has created a dreamlike, expressionistic overlap of scenes on an all but bare stage set designed by Melissa Bennett and lit by Glen Goodwin. Cohn has also chosen to use a significantly shortened version of the play, as trimmed by playwright Miller for a 1966 television production. Missing scenes are little missed and tragic inevitability is tightened by the brevity.
DEATH OF A SALESMAN, presented by New Edgecliff Theatre, continues through Oct. 24. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.