Youngstown Playhouse New insight into "Salesman"
By GUY D’ASTOLFO
With every reading of “Death of a Salesman,” more nuances seem to emerge.
Ask Joe Scarvell, who is directing a production of Arthur Miller’s classic work at the Youngstown Playhouse.
“Yes, it’s about the fall of the American dream, but there is a lot more to it,” he said. “There is so much interpersonal action going on between the characters.”
The tragic play about everyman Willy Loman and his family has been a staple for decades on stages and in classrooms. But Scarvell said he finds new meaning in the lines with each rehearsal.
He spoke of how the denial of love theme, so prevalent in Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House,” is also integral to “Death of a Salesman.”
“I see it in this one,” said Scarvell. “Willy worked hard all his life, but the people that he goes to, that he was good to, all suddenly disappear. Only one person supports him at the end — a neighbor who he used to make fun of. Willy had denied him love.”
New insights have popped into Scarvell’s mind at the oddest times. He jumped out of bed one recent morning to call Chuck Simon, who is playing Willy Loman.
“I said ‘Chuck, listen carefully when his buddy Charley says, ‘Willy, why don’t you grow up?’ It’s as if he sees Willy as a boy in a play, like he’s playing at life,’” said Scarvell.
“In another part, Willy is in a restaurant, and he gives the waiter a lot of money. The waiter says that it’s too much, and you don’t have to give me all this, but Willy says take it; I don’t need it anymore. That’s a foreshadow, and we were passing over that line.”
At 82, Scarvell goes beyond the description of theater veteran. An on-and-off regular at the Playhouse since the ’50s, he is still a theater instructor at Westminster College and also occasionally steps in as director. He most recently helmed “That Championship Season” in 2011 at the Playhouse.
Scarvell said he relishes a play like “Death of a Salesman” for its complexity and degree of difficulty.
The production features a 1940s period set designed by Leslie Brown and built by Jim Lybarger and Johnny Pecano that recreates the typical middle-class home of the era, right down to a vintage refrigerator.
In addition to Chuck Simon as Willy Loman, the cast includes Molly Galano as Linda; Matthew DiBattiste as Happy; Cheney Morgan as Biff; plus Joey Pascarella, Stephanie Cambro, Dave Wolford, Terry Shears, Brian K. Dew, Lauren May Wenic, Frank G. Martin and Kate Starling.
John Cox is the assistant director, and Susi Thompson is stage manager.