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A small man writ large Death of a Salesman'

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Orono Community Theatre, Ten Bucks Theatre collaborate on Miller classic

ORONO In their first-ever full collaboration, Orono Community Theatre and Ten Bucks Theatre have teamed up to bring an American dramatic classic to the stage.

The groups have come together to present Arthur Miller's 'Death of a Salesman' at the Al Cyrus Pavilion Theatre on the campus of the University of Maine. Their joint production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning classic runs through Jan. 25. Tickets are $12; $6 for UMaine students with ID.

Miller's 1949 masterpiece is considered to be one of the greatest pieces in the history of American dramatic literature. Despite its advanced age, 'Death of a Salesman' manages to maintain its relevance, resonating just as potently now as it did upon its debut nearly 70 years ago.

Willy Loman (Mark Bilyk) is an aging traveling salesman, struggling with the realities of his advancing age and his declining prospects. His wife Linda (Sandy Cyrus) is steadfast in her support of her husband despite increasing doubts regarding his well-being. His two grown sons are at home Biff (Nathan Roach) has just returned from yet another rambling sojourn out West, while Happy (Gregory McElvaine) is back out of concern for his old man.

As Willy's sense of self slowly crumbles around him, long-buried tensions between Willy and his family particularly Biff begin to bubble up to the surface. As the line blurs between memories of the past and moments in the present, we meet some of the others who have been part of Willy's long life people like the Lomans' neighbor Charley (Ron Lisnet) and his son Bernard (Padraic Harrison) appear in both present and past tenses, offering assistance that is almost always spurned. We also see flashes of Willy's long-departed brother Ben (Dick Brucher) that offer insight regarding Willy's deeply held ideas regarding the meaning of success.

Willy's pride his defining characteristic is what leads him so often into conflict. Misplaced priorities have been passed along to Biff and Happy, and while each man externalizes those priorities in a very different way, these two are still very much their father's sons. And when Willy has exhausted all avenues and burned every bridge, he sees only one possible and very tragic solution.

There might not be a role in the American canon that is quite as iconic as Willy Loman. It's a dream part for many actors, but one that is fraught with all manner of pitfalls and pressures. In this production, the onus of bringing Loman to life falls upon the shoulders of Mark Bilyk. It's a heavy load to bear, but Bilyk manages to hold strong. His Willy Loman is burdened and broken with sadness, only occasionally do we see even flashes of contentment or satisfaction. The salesman's eyes often tilt their way wistfully upward, searching his mind's eye for the happiness that has somehow evaded him. Bilyk powers Loman with a quiet reserve.

The role of Linda Loman is a tough nut to crack; Cyrus chooses to do so by making her equal parts deluded and enablingat least on the surface. There are hints of swirling conflict beneath the surface, but in Miller's world, they can be only hints in the end, she is a dutiful wife above all else. That duty to her family allows her to cling to her misconceptions far longer than she should.

Nathan Roach brings a bit of a swagger to his portrayal of Biff; even as he is forced to confront the lies he has been told and told himself we never stop seeing glimpses of the borderline-arrogant BMOC that Biff embodies during the flashback scenes. He's a broken man who can't stand the thought of anyone seeing the cracks. Meanwhile, McElvaine delves into the forced geniality of Happy, who is far more like his father than Willy would care to admit. He is the quintessential younger brother; even as he outstrips his brother's level of success, Happy happily resumes his place in Biff's shadow.

There are plenty of notable moments brought forth by the rest of the ensemble mention should be made of the wonderful energy Lisnet brings to his scenes as Charley, Harrison's sad desperation (and subsequent maturation) as Bernard and Brucher's spot-on portrayal of the self-satisfied Uncle Ben, as well as Randy Hunt's sharp comic turn as an obsequious waiter.Ultimately, every member of the cast performs the task at hand; bringing a classic to life isn't easy, no matter how frequent (or infrequent) your moments on the stage.

An affinity for and understanding of the material is paramount to the success of bringing a script like this to life; director Julie Lisnet clearly possesses both qualities in abundance. This production is a refreshing throwback while still managing to remain accessible to a modern audience. It could easily have felt dusty and outdated a museum piece but instead maintains an engaging vibrancy.

Some of that feeling springs from the energy of the space; the Cyrus Pavilion is a bit of a throwback itself, after all. Scenic designer Tricia Hobbs utilizes all of the space's unique quirks in creating a living, breathing set that is both functional and flexible. Add to that Sue Dunham Shane's crisp lighting design, Claire Bolduc's period costumes and Randy Hunt's sadly upbeat sound design and the end result is an immersive world for the play to inhabit.

'Death of a Salesman' is part of the canon for a reason; it is one of the greatest of plays written by one of the greatest of playwrights. It takes a lot to do justice to such a work, but rest assured - Orono Community Theatre and Ten Bucks Theatre have done Miller's legacy proud.

Last modified on Friday, 23 January 2015 15:15


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