Casting is key and Insight Theatre Company has done that with Arthur Miller’s classic American drama, “Death Of A Salesman.” From top to bottom, this cast is superb and tells this riveting story with pain, passion and a bit of panache. Of course, you’re working with some St. Louis acting royalty when you find John Contini, Susie Wall and Joneal Joplin headlining any cast. But that’s just a start- this production runs deep behind an excellent ensemble, outstanding direction and wonderfully conceived technical achievements.
American ideals are changing at the end of World War II and people caught in the status quo are left behind. We find the entire Loman family experiencing this phenomenon but no one more affected than patriarch Willy Loman. John Contini as Willy shows the frustration at every turn during his riveting performance. It’s often a low key approach as his sudden realization that he is no longer relevant creeps up on him. Living from day to day with no “401K” or savings to fall back on, he can’t even keep up with his insurance premiums. His blend of anger and hope provide a delicate balance that keys into what so many folks were struggling with at this time. It doesn’t help that his former boss has retired and left his hard nosed son in charge. Willy’s frustration is further brought out by his treatment of wife Linda. At one point he’s loving and understanding and the next he’s tearing into her for one small thing after another.
As Linda, Susie Wall continues to solidify her hold as a dominant actress in our town. Her performance is heart-wrenching, to say the least. From her anguish in the now famous line, “attention must be paid,” to her heartbreak and faith in her sons, it’s a classic performance in a classic play. Matthew Linhardt is also strong as the erstwhile Biff. He continually searches for the job that brings him wealth instead of trying to work at anything in this struggling post-war environment. His brother, Happy, also has strong character development thanks to the brilliant performance from John’s son, Jason Contini.
Taylor Pietz continues her blossoming career as a triple threat (this time putting the singing and dancing behind) with a finely tuned turn as Willy’s out of town mistress. Joneal Joplin is powerful once again (he played Willy several years ago at the Rep) as Willy’s brother Ben. Attempting to lure Willy away from his dead end job to share adventure and riches with him in Alaska and other destinations of danger but promise, he is saddened by Willy’s sudden turn of events but can’t continue to plead with him as he watches the inevitable happen. David Cooperstein also shines as the edgy boss who adds insult to injury by continually referring to Willy as “kid.”
Michael Pierce turns in a fine performance as Bernard and Tom Murray gives us great work as Charley. In addition, a supporting cast that includes Mollie Amburgey, Julia Crump and Tom Wethington bring real substance to a group of actors who really have a handle on this play. Director Wayne Loui is the perfect choice for this piece. He has a mastery of the work and of Arthur Miller in general. He squeezes every ounce of pathos and charm out of the play and keeps us rooting for Willy and his family even though we know there’s little hope.
The beauty and shabbiness of Mark Wilson’s set design perfectly reflects the play itself and his lights follow that theme exquisitely. The set is usually your first look at a play these days (no more curtains hiding it as you walk in to the theatre) and this one really sets the tone. Tracy Newcomb’s costumes are also a great reflection of the family and their surroundings while the Kyle Meadors sound design also establishes mood. This production is a total immersion into “Death Of A Salesman.”
Insight Theatre Company has brought this season to a close in dramatic and powerful fashion. It’s great to see Willy Loman again and it’s nice that every stitch of Miller’s tragedy is intact and resonates to today’s audience as well as it did 65 years ago. You’ll want to put this one on your radar as a “must see” of the season- and you can by calling Insight at 314-556-1293 or contact them at insighttheatrecompany.com for tickets or more information. “Death Of A Salesman” plays through September 21st.