It would be difficult to imagine a more intimidating project for a high school Drama Department than the brilliantly complex play, “Death of a Salesman,” by Arthur Miller.
But as is usual, The Woodlands High School Theater is not afraid to reach for the stars. W.H.S. currently holds the state University Interscholastic League Championship for last year’s triumph, “The Shadowbox,” and this reviewer will never forget the school’s exceptional production of “A Piece of My Heart” last season.
The current production of Miller’s groundbreaking 1949 play is this year’s I.L.C. entry, and is directed by Sandra Erlandson, Carlen J. Gilseth, and Larry Wood. It stars the Drama Department’s student president, Lance Kramer, in the lead role of the salesman, Willy Loman. In the 1998 Class Act production of “Annie,” Mr. Kramer established his skill at playing mature roles with his fine Daddy Warbucks. Here, again, he plays a part well beyond his years with considerable skill.
Co-stars include Devon Preston in a sensitive performance as Willy’s wife, Linda. Michael Geller and Adam DeCaulp play Willy’s sons, (Happy and Biff, respectively) who try desperately to understand their troubled father and his suicidal mental confusion while losing the edge in a job that has brought him to a point of tragic identity crisis. Kevin Perkins does well as Bernard, the boy’s childhood buddy who goes on to success as a lawyer while they struggle to find their places in the world. Matthew Hardigree as neighbor, Charley, and Galen McQuillen as Uncle Ben, both offer good characterizations. Ava Kuykendall is a scene-stealer as the wild “Woman” that Willy cavorts with in a Boston hotel room during flashbacks of his “on the road” experiences as a salesman. The scene where Biff discovers her in his father’s hotel room is a heart-wrenching reminder of a time when marital fidelity had real meaning. In that regard, one suspects our culture has lost something of value in the years since the play’s debut.
Alex Bush, Erin Roche, Justin Felder, Brooke Roberts, Jodee Bruce, and Nikki Delhomme all do well in supporting roles. A very versatile split-level set (designed by Gilseth), good period costuming (designed by Ms. Erlandson and Elizabeth Motherwell), and some fine makeup work from designer, Karen Cox, were added production values.
This competition version of the play is a collection of scenes running about forty minutes in length. I found this abridgement of Miller’s masterpiece to be troubling. The original play is full of complicated flashbacks and intense interrelationships that generate very powerful scenes. The full impact never seems to materialize in this abbreviated production. There are some scenes where the actors turn their backs to the audience and become difficult to hear. Never the less, there are strong moments here, as in the hotel room episode mentioned above, or in the raging scene that ensues when Willy overhears his son talking about him. Dramatic sparks do fly, Kramer’s Willy drifts ably in a delusional world, and the young cast offers plenty of talent that will, hopefully, move their efforts to the next level of the competition.