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Posted on Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 1:25 a.m.

Ann Arbor Civic Theatre breathes life into powerful "Death of a Salesman"

By Roger LeLievre

Call it the perfect play for our troubled times.

Arthur Miller’s 1949 drama “Death of a Salesman,” which opened Thursday night in the North Campus theater named for the playwright and University of Michigan alum, concerns itself with finding the American dream, yet today’s headlines are full of news about folks who can’t even find a job.

Credit a talented Ann Arbor Civic Theatre cast for bringing this icon of the American theater vividly, searingly to life. As far as this production goes, attention must indeed be paid.

The show, directed by Debra Reichard, unfolds on a two-level stage. The story focuses on Willy Loman, an aging traveling salesman whose best days are behind him. As he’s forced to examine his past, and the failed relationship he has with his two sons, Biff and Happy, the increasingly delusional Willy struggles to figure out why he never achieved the success and fortune that had always been his dream.

Marc Holland makes a superb Willy Loman, whose shoulders seem to become more and more stooped as the play goes on and as he listens more to his inner voice than to the voices of those around him. He’s falling apart right before our eyes, his anger becoming more and more palpable, and it is riveting to watch. “If business doesn’t pick up, I don’t know what I’ll do,” he laments, except even before that point you know where the story is going and the outcome won’t be good.

As strong as Holland is, however, he’s at least equaled by Wendy Katz Hiller, who plays Willy’s wife, Linda. Her portrayal is powerful, and that’s nowhere more evident than in the dressing-down she gives her sons over their callous treatment of their father (“His name was never in the paper… But he’s a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He’s not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog.”). It’s impossible to look away from her emotional performance, not here and not any other time she is on stage.

Chris Manna and Leo Zainea are also strong in their supporting roles as Loman’s neighbors Bernard and Charley, and Chris Grimm and Jeff Stringer, as man-children Happy and Biff, are well-matched to their parts as well. The final scene between Biff and his father is the kind of outstanding work that helped earn this opening night performance a deserved standing ovation.

“Death of a Salesman” continues Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Arthur Miller Theatre, Walgreen Drama Center, 1226 Murfin Ave. Call 734-971-2228 or visit for tickets.


Catherine Zudak

Sat, Oct 29, 2011 : 2:09 p.m.

I've seen this show 4 times, and Civic's production is wonderful. I never liked this play. When I was younger I was totally impatient with Willy, his wife and his kids. However, age and children of my own have given Willy's struggle new poignancy. But, as amazing as Marc Holland is -- and he is amazing -- the strong performances of the rest of the cast made this play engage me as never before. I had a lot more empathy for Willy because his wife was so clearly trying to protect a fragile human being. In other performances Linda always seemed like a doormat, rather than a tigress. And Jeff's Biff became the play's emotional center for me. He isn't a loser, he's the everyman. I left feeling hopeful rather than depressed. Willy never figured out the secret. Maybe Biff can just by being himself. Marc, Linda and Biff were standouts, but everyone, including the bit players, were high energy and owned the stage. Especially, Wendy Wright as "The Woman." Well worth the price of admission.

Jerome Blue

Fri, Oct 28, 2011 : 12:35 p.m.

Never understood why this is considered such a great play. It's basically people yelling at each other. Everything from Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf to All I the Family became affected by this obnoxious quality.