Death of a Salesman

From left, Julie Jones as Linda Loman, Armando Saenz as Biff, Bruce Hanson as Willy Loman, and Kris Luddington as Happy, star in "Death of a Salesman," opening this weekend at the Hap Ryder Riverfront Theatre, 1852 Second Ave. 

Fairbanks Drama Association delivered another strong showing with its rendition of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” With a strong cast and a set teeming with the overgrowth of city life, this production is enjoyable for everyone, even for those who aren’t fans of Miller’s work.

It opens with Willy Loman (Bruce Hanson) returning to the Brooklyn house he has shared with wife, Linda (Julie Jones). His health is failing, and he is beaten down. Immediately, we see Willy as someone who is having difficulties connecting with reality. He jumps back and forth between present and past. He relives glory days when his children, Biff and Happy (Armando Saenz and Kris Luddington) seemingly idolized him and he in turn idolized them. He had such dreams for them, and the weight of those hopes are a heavy burden on their lives.

Biff, (Saenz) along with Willy’s smarmy brother Ben (Paul Adasiak), are the main characters in the delusions. Biff was a high school star athlete, but struggled academically and thus lost out on his chance for collegiate success. He has spent his adult life roaming the countryside working as a farmhand and occasionally committing petty theft.

Happy (Luddington) is a philandering bachelor working his way up the business ladder. He dates the wives of the executives and revels in his conquests. Both are lost and emotionally remain in the same time period as Willy’s delusions.

Director Heath Robertson tells a consistent story, and he sure knows how to cast a play. Whether it is David Canety’s stand-out turn in a minor role as a waiter named Stanley or legend Bruce Rogers’ take on Willy’s frenemy Charley, this production is perfectly cast.

Rogers is gold on stage. With a barely noticed gesture or a slight alteration of his speech, no one creates a character with intention like him. When the two Bruces are on stage together, it is magic. Adasiak is the egotistical, smarmy brother who haunts Willy regarding his decision to not go with his brother to Alaska. Ben becomes wildly successful, and Willy forever regrets his decision to stay behind.

Hanson plays the complicated Willy with consideration and sensitivity. Sometimes abusive, sometimes deeply loving, there is a kindness to Hanson’s performance that is seen beneath the volatility of his personality.

Jones adds dimensions to Linda, in a role that could easily be seen as enabling Willy. She knows Willy best of all and has fashioned a lifetime’s worth of coping behaviors, from always having a notepad ready to calculate his claimed commissions to buying new-fangled cheeses, that all keep Willy in the present and force him to tell her the truth. Their love and chemistry is evident, and it makes this Brooklyn home, so rife with ghosts of the past, supportive despite the breakdown of their family unit.

One of the tragedies of this play is the impact Willy’s pressures have on Biff. While Luddington plays Happy with self-confidence and also mirrors his mother in his attempts to placate Willy and reunite the family, it is Biff who takes on the full brunt of the burden of Willy’s disconnection from reality.

Saenz ratchets up the energy for the confrontations with his father and captures the pain Biff experiences. He only wants Willy to see him for the person he has always been, demanding truthfulness from a man incapable of seeing the world as it is, especially as it relates to his children. FDA accomplishes all you can ask from good theater: An entertaining evening; a little bit of tragedy; and a story that will leave you conversing into the night.

“Death of a Salesman” runs at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 23. Tickets can be purchased online at AKtickets.com or by calling 456-7529. 

Scott Wiser is a freelance writer who covers theater in the Fairbanks area.