Theater advance: 'Death of a Salesman' a critique of materialistic society

Published: Saturday, March 16 2013 2:19 p.m. MDT

Richard Scott sees “Death of a Salesman” as “an exploration of the American dream.”

Widely considered to be one of the greatest American plays ever written, the Arthur Miller classic is a scathing critique of the pursuit of the American dream and of the competitive, materialistic American society of the late 1940s.

In the Grand Theatre production of “Death of a Salesman,” Scott plays Willy Loman, an average guy who attempts to hide his averageness and failures behind delusions of grandeur as he strives to be “a success.”

“The play deals with Willy’s inability to meet the expectations of the American dream,” Scott says. “He relentlessly buys into the idea of success in the business world, and he’s unable to change and make decisions that would be better for him and his family while he’s pursuing that dream.”

Miller wrote in his autobiography, “Timebends,” that he had hoped “Death of a Salesman” would expose “this pseudo life that thought to touch the clouds by standing on top of a refrigerator, waving a paid-up mortgage at the moon, victorious at last.”

When the play opened on Broadway in 1949, it won Miller the Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award for Best Play. “Death of a Salesman” has been revived on Broadway four times, winning three Tony Awards for Best Revival. At the play’s premiere, Miller had already proven himself as a master playwright with “All My Sons,” but “Death of a Salesman” launched his career into a whole new level.

Like all classics, the themes developed still ring true today. “The play is extraordinarily relevant,” Scott says. “It is going to be 65 years old next year. I’ve been asked if 200 years from now will ‘Death of a Salesman’ still be performed and relevant, similar with what we see with Shakespeare. I think it will be. It is a broad stroke, universal exploration of our humanity and our struggles with our humanity.”

By Miller’s account, after performances during the play’s first run, “some, especially men, were bent forward covering their faces, and others were openly weeping,” because they recognized Willy’s search for humanity within his profit-driven job.

Calling the lead role “daunting and extraordinarily demanding,” Scott explains his decision to portray Loman was not one he made easily, but because he was deeply intrigued by the character, he is taking on the challenge.

“I found myself right around Willy’s age, and I thought that I had the right director with Mark Fossen,” he says. “Although Willy is tragic in so many ways, I think he’s extraordinarily heroic if not deluded, but he’s heroic. The guy just bounces back; he’s made of rubber, and won’t give up. And that tenacity takes a certain level of delusion, certainly, but also extraordinary courage.”

If you go

What: “Death of a Salesman”

Where: The Grand Theatre

When: Thursdays and Saturdays, March 7-23, and Wednesday, March 13, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday matinees on March 9 and 16 at 2 p.m.

How much: $24-$9

Tickets: 801-957-3322 or the-grand.org

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