J.E. Ballantyne Jr. does double duty, directing and portraying lead character Willy Loman.
By JOHN PATRICK GATTA
NEW CASTLE -- Seeing the life of Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman" deteriorate before our eyes is never easy to witness. The tragic scenario of a man who is desperately holding on to his dreams yet finds them trampled by the cold slap in the face of reality is always a heart-ripping experience.
So, it's not exactly a cheery evening out, but what makes such a presentation worthwhile is when it smoothly engrosses the audience in the constricting coil of duplicity, frustration and blunt honesty.
That's just what happened at the New Castle Playhouse's Annex Theatre on Friday. The main actors easily slipped into their characters, making the audience feel like a fly on the wall.
This was displayed in the first scene through the relaxed camaraderie between brothers Andrew Pavelek and Ashten Beach as Biff and Happy Loman and continued nearly two-and-a-half hours later to its final scene.
Plot: Written by Arthur Miller, the Pulitzer Prize-winning play follows Loman and his family -- a wife and two adult sons -- as he grasps to remain an integral part of his company's account books. His 36 years as a traveling salesman and his boastful ways are catching up with him. Unable to cope, Willy reminisces about old times. These flashbacks are filled with illuminating character development as well as the unfolding of a series of regrets that haunt his existence.
Doing double duty as the show's director as well as playing the lead character, J.E. Ballantyne Jr. does a fabulous job. He understands the complexity of the material and allows its intricacies to sparkle so they can't be missed. His portrayal of Loman sharply runs the gamut of emotions.
What's particularly noteworthy is that Ballantyne, Pavelek and Ashten showed that the ability to use supreme confidence as a method of squashing debilitating insecurities runs through the Loman gene pool.
Doing her best to hold this threesome together is Willy's saintly and loyal wife, Linda. Stripped of the ethnic accents she's brought to past performances on local stages, Molly Galano still gives her portrayal a complexity that let's us know that her sunshine-like demeanor doesn't stifle a perceptiveness of what goes on around her.
That takes care of the nuclear family, but not the fine cast. From the comic relief supplied by Willy's neighbor and verbal sparring partner Charley (Tim Walters) to the elder and more successful Loman (Dennis Wallace as Uncle Ben) and even those who only appear for one scene, each actor gives "Death of a Salesman" a consistently strong support.
Universality: In the end, Loman's torment has a universality that can be identified with by anyone who feels overworked, underpaid and underappreciated. His pride gets the best of him, while his aspirations for his children can only be crushed when their actions do not lead to the desired results.
The play may have an uncomfortable ring of familiarity, but that is why "Death of a Salesman" continues to be an important work and why a good production, like the one in New Castle, is worth attending.