Entertainment – A Very Long Dark Night: “Death of a Salesman”

The first read through (table read) occurred on 2/9/2020 and will open 20 months later on Thursday 10/28/21. Purchase tickets at https://bdact.org/death-of-a-salesman/

In our October 25th post we chronicled the 19 month COVID19 delay of the Eagles Hotel California tour from April of 2020 to October 2021. Today’s post chronicles the 20 month COVID19 delay of “Death of a Salesman” at the Beaver Dam Area Community Theater’s Fine Art Center located at 117 West Maple Ave. in the Kamps Auditorium in Beaver Dam, WI. Tickets available at https://bdact.org/death-of-a-salesman/ and at the door.

For those who are not theater rats, a dark night is the open day between the final dress rehearsal and opening night. The first cast read through, frequently referred to as a table read, took place on February 9, 2020. The play will at long last open on October 28, 2021.

This Arthur Miller written play was first staged in 1949. When asked if the play is still relevant in 2021, Director Diane Lutz said; “Absolutely, one of the main themes is pursuing your American dream. That’s never going to go away. The idea of wanting to be number one is never going to go away.”

For those who are not familiar with Arthur Miller’s classic drama. The story centers around a cognitively failing patriarch named Willy Loman and his dysfunctional, but loving family.

Sixty year old traveling salesman Willy, once a top producer for the Wagner Company, struggles with declining sales success and his failing driving ability. However, Willy (Paul McMillan) and wife Linda (Holly Sina) are ever hopeful for his future success and the success of their sons Biff (Dan Nugent) and Happy (Tim Cwirla) Loman.

Our leading role actors must exhibit a wide range of emotions during from beginning to end of the play. None more extreme than those of the characters Willy and Biff who are struggling to be the best that they are capable of and just can’t seem to find the correct path. Paul McMillan and Dan Nugent are stellar in their ability express heart wrenching emotion in several key moments of the story.

From left to right, the Loman’s, WIlly (Paul McMillan), Linda (Holly Sina) talk about his last business trip to New England, while Happy (Tim Cwirla) and Biff (Dan Nugent) chat about their night on the town and what the future might look like for both of them..

The play takes place while Willy is nearing the end of his career at age 60. Many scenes show Willy reverting back to conversations and interactions with characters from previous times of his life while interacting with characters in real time.

Willy is preoccupied by two events in his life. Both of which could be considered ‘opportunities’ brought to Willy by minor characters in the play. Willy regrets both encounters, but for different reasons.

Opportunity number one is with his older brother Ben played aptly by veteran BDACT actor Rick Ramirez. Ben made his fortune in Africa as a young man, and returns to offer Willy a chance to start a business in Alaska.

Side stage view of Willy pleading his case to big brother Ben who enters the jungles of Africa at age 17 and walks out rich at the age of 21.

Some of my photos were taken at the back of the auditorium during Act 1 while some were taken side stage during Act 2.

Opportunity number two comes at the hands of a character simply named Woman, played by Jena Berg, who offers Willy an equally attractive proposition that can also bring business to Willy.

Woman (Jena Berg) and Willy recounting an opportunity from Willy’s past. Note that real time wife Linda is also in this scene while Willy’s mind wanders back and forth between now and then.
Willy pleading with second generation owner of The Wagner Company Howard Wagner (Dan Landsness) to be reassigned from traveling sales to floor room sales.

There are many significant minor characters who interact with the major Loman family characters. Primarily next door neighbors uncle Charley (Jim McMillan) and cousin Bernard (Kevin Cushing) whose function in the play are to help the Loman’s along their troubled way.

While this is a drama, there are several tension breaking moments of levity and humor.

Jim McMillan is, as always, superb in interjecting humor into the many interactions that he has with Willy concerning the future of eldest son Biff and the Loman’s ongoing financial issues.

Dan Landsness plays second generation owner Howard Wagner of The Wagner Company, the business that Willy sells for. Howard’s only scene happens in Act 2 when Willy shows up hat in hand asking to be transferred from traveling sales to in house floor sales.

The scene begins with Howard playing with a new technology recording machine. Landsness’ complete preoccupation with his new toy while being completely disinterested in Willy’s plight is humorously entertaining. I’m sure it would not be as funny with any other actor playing Howard.

Fortunately the funniest scene is performed by yours truly. Stanley (Ron Wilkie) a waiter at Frank’s Chophouse has a lively and entertaining conversation with Happy while waiting for Biff and Willy to arrive for dinner. Happy, like the old man, is a womanizer and becomes distracted by beautiful young “struedels” Miss Forsythe (Maylee Kok) and Letta (Lauren Kile).

The cast is rounded out with Barb Vockroth playing the dual parts of Jenny, uncle Charley’s secretary and the unseen voice of the hotel operator.

The major characters played by Paul McMillan, Holly Sina, Dan Nugent and Tim Cwirla are daunting assignments. They have all been stellar. Special kudos to Holly Sina who took over the role of Linda due to an illness 2 weeks before opening night. I’m in awe!

With that said, director Diane Lutz, producer Bobby Marck, and Stage Manage Lee McMillan must be given a big ovation for assembling a great cast under a tough time constraint and COVID19 restrictions enacted by the theater management. They had 6 weeks to start five actors from scratch, and a sixth actor only got two weeks from scratch.

For my money, the minor character actors are what really round out a great overall performance. Diane and Bobby hit a home run on this one. Jim McMillan, Kevin Cushing, Rick Ramirez, Jena Berg, Dan Landsness, and yes Ron Wilkie hit their characters and their moments to add depth to the story.

Patrick Lutz and Gary Taurick put up a wonderful two story home set in the same time frame! It looks great. James Steffen and Scott Eberle provide lights and visual effects. Greg Richart and Kaitlin Hollbrook provide sound and sound effects. Costuming by Laural Connolly.

Diane is correct. Pursuit of the American Dream never becomes passe. See you at the Fine Arts Center this weekend.

The Loman family argue about Biff’s business opportunity.

Published by R Dub's Rub

Conversational BLOG writer and contributing writer for LocaLeben magazine. My BLOG entries represent observations that intrigue, amuse, inspire or stimulate my appetite.

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