PREVIEW Oakland prepares for 'Salesman'
The director said the subject matter drew him to the play.
By L. CROW
YOUNGSTOWN -- The play that has been nicknamed "the great American tragedy" will soon be brought to life at the Oakland Center.
"Death of a Salesman," by Arthur Miller, is directed by Mike Hinge, an English teacher at Choffin Career Center who has been involved with theater for about 15 years.
"Salesman" opened on Broadway in 1949, and won the Pulitzer Prize that year. Since then, it has become a theater classic. Miller died last February.
The play takes place in the 24 hours before Willy Loman commits suicide. He is a traveling salesman in his 60s who realizes his life has been all wrong, a failure. Now, past his prime, broke and jobless, he begins to suffer hallucinations, flashbacks. Feelings of guilt take him over the edge.
Facing the challenge
"I have a lot of respect for this work: its craftsmanship and the theme Miller has chosen," said Hinge. "I chose to do it because it is such a challenge for a director. It is filled with high emotions, and there is a fine line between playing it over the top and understating."
Hinge said it was the subject matter, and its particular relevance in today's world that drew him to the work.
"It's this idea of the 'American Dream' and how the emphasis is put on our image rather than character," said Hinge. "Willy believed that if you were charming and people liked you, that was what mattered. He had the idea that he could be successful and rich. But now, he's losing everything, and his two sons are failures, too."
"I think it makes a beautiful statement for present time," Hinge added. "The media today stresses first impressions and how you look, but not character. If you lose your looks, you have no other foundation. The play shows us that this shallow importance of appearance doesn't hold up."
Taking on wife's role
Jane Hill, known locally for her work on and off stage, is playing Willy's wife, Linda. Hill said this role is so cool because she really has leeway to interpret her character.
"Miller had a knack for defining the men in his play," she said. "He really mapped out their ups and downs, strengths and weaknesses. But he didn't seem to have the same grasp on women."
She describes Linda as someone who dearly loves Willy, scrambling to keep things together while he is falling apart. "She is his cheerleader; she does everything she can to make his life meaningful. By the time the play opens, it is nearly the end of Willy's life. The miracle is that he is still alive at that point, and it is because of Linda."
Hill also said that this play awakens deep feelings about being in a relationship. "People in the audience will need to bring a box of tissue," she added.