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SEE THIS: Death Of A Salesman At Raven Theatre

By Suzy Evans in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 22, 2009 7:40PM

2009_10_Salesman.jpg There is a reason we read certain plays in high school. Sure, they’ve been done countless times across the country, occasionally in god-awful productions. Their plot summaries are all over the internet, and they can be a little boring to read. But sometime, somewhere, those words came to life onstage and changed the landscape of American culture. So before you groan that Death of a Salesman is at Raven Theatre for its second time, you should really go see it.

We don’t fall into the category of teenagers who have been force-fed this play or the group of thespians that have attended multiple productions. Actually, we had never seen or read the play before we stepped into Raven Theatre on a cold, rainy night. (Well, we knew the main character was a traveling salesman named Willy Loman.) But we still walked in with certain expectations.

This play is supposed to be one of the great American plays, but it’s also the bane of many high schoolers' existence. There was a large house taking up the majority of the stage and not much else when we entered the theater. As the lights went down, we heard the huffing and puffing of an old man coming from the aisle, and when he swung open the house - literally, it was like a giant Polly Pocket house - an entire world emerged. From that moment, we knew we were in for something special.

In case you're like us the plot concerns the quintessential everyman, Willy Loman. He goes through life thinking the key to success is being liked, a credo he passes on to his sons, Biff and Happy. In turn, his sons grow up with no potential, while Willy slowly gets pushed out of the job he’s held for 30+ years. Haunted by the success of his brother in Alaska and deluded by his dreams for his son Biff, Willy slowly goes mad. The play starts in the present - Willy becoming crazy - and meanders in and out of the past.

Now, we can see how this story might be slightly boring to read. The three and a half hour epic August: Osage County will also probably make it into classrooms (or maybe it already has?), and students will probably grumble and groan. But to see those words come to life onstage, wow. Granted we haven’t seen any other productions of Death of a Salesman (or August for that matter), but director Michael Menendian does for this play what Anna D. Shapiro did for August. Everything from the set design to the staging to the acting was near perfect. We feel like we’re failing as a critic in this review, but we were just floored. There were a few bumps along the way, but they’re really not worth noting. Just go see it.

Death of a Salesman runs through December 5 at Raven Theatre (6157 N. Clark Street).