Sunday, July 2, 2023

Death of A Salesman by Arthur Miller



By Joe Straw


Love is always the key that motivates a character.


One recently witness Picnic by William Inge at the Odyssey Theatre directed by John Formanesh-Bocca with an African American cast. The culture was exuberantly embedded into the production and made the night that much more unusual and pleasant.  So, having Death of a Salesman with a mostly Latino cast, one was expecting something of that same magnitude, and it was not. Still, this was a remarkable night!


Casa 0101 Theater and Brown Fist Productions presents Death of a Salesman written by Arthur Miller, directed by Corky Dominguez, and produced by Emmanuel Deleage, MariaElena Yepes and David Reyes through July 16, 2023.


Willy Loman (Vance Valencia) is emotionally exhausted when he returns home on this night of all nights.  He is weighed down by his sample cases, masquerading as luggage, filled with his stock in trade, an interior voice attached to each item in that luggage.  His aptitude in life is/was to sell.  By hook or crook, it is the manner to which he has survived and provided support for his doting wife Linda Loman (Christine Avila) and his two lost-in-life sons Biff (Eddie Diaz) and Happy (Adam Hollick).


On this night, in his life, Willy Loman has taken a turn for the worse. Recently, he has been hearing voices other than his own, and they come to him frequently. He is haunted by his past which are now shadowy vibrations that transport him back in time to relive the happy memories and most importantly refresh the mistakes he has made along the way in his sixty-three years of life.  Because knowingly he has made a few major mistakes and the time to regroup into some type of forgiveness is now.  This is his journey into the unknown, soon to be known, and he has one chance to turn it all around - if he can find it.  


Earlier in the day, his trip to Boston has only gotten him as far as Yonkers, a meager 9 miles away, a dillydallying four-hour return trip back home to Brooklyn to make amends, a firm inner justification to action, or a stopping point to his career and his life.  


When home, he expresses his thoughts of nearly driving off the road and killing someone to Linda who refuses to acknowledge his mental state.


“Willy, dear.  Talk to them again.  There’s no reason why you can’t work in New York.” – Linda


Biff, now thirty-four, has returned home. Linda, for the moment is happy, she tells Willy that she loves the smell of their aftershave lotion and asks Willy to be gentle with him.


“There’s such an undercurrent in him.  He became a moody man. Did he apologize when I left this morning?” - Willy


Willy blames Biff for being lazy and then immediately says he’s not lazy. There is a point of contention between them, a dagger plunged so deep, it’s not so easily removed. And with both of his sons presently living under his roof the world and his home starts closing in on him.  All he can think about were the things that might have been.  He wanders his dilapidated house, unfinished colors, gyres of blacks and browns hurriedly spread on the walls without an afterthought, and now he is walking around like a somnambulist speaking to himself in search of a Swiss cheese sandwich and a cold glass of milk.  




Hearing his voice from the upstairs bedroom Biff and Happy reminisce.  They are concerned about their father’s driving habits. And Biff remembers that time right after high school and possibly a secret he is holding on to.   


“You’re not still sour on Dad, are you Biff?” – Happy


“He’s all right, I guess.” – Biff

Happy, proposes a business venture but suddenly loses focus, and can’t keep his mind on what he wants in life moving to tell his stories of his sexual conquests.


“About five hundred women would like to know what was said in this room.” - Happy


Biff can only think about how far he has not gotten in life.


Downstairs and reliving the past, Willy is transported to the time in the backyard, tossing around a football with his sons when Bernard (Jared Treviño) tells Biff that he’s waiting for him to come over and study for the Regents. But Biff, with the blessing of his father runs into the basement to sweep out the furnace room with his friends.


While Willy speaks to his wife about money, his minds drifts to The Woman (Leah Verrill) with whom he has had an affair with years earlier only to mentally come back to his wife saying that he will make it up to her. And while Uncle Ben (Jack Bernaz) is flashing in and out of Willy’s memory the one constant thing is Bernard saying that Biff must study for the exam or else they will flunk him. It is an important moment in Biff’s life that sets the course for the tragedy that will unfold.


Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman is a tragedy with enough ambiguity to have actors give their take on the play.   On face value there’s little to like about the main characters.  Willy, beset with dementia, early Alzheimer, or just mis-remembering thinks little of the consequences of having an affair and having his sons cheat and bully their way through life. Linda is enamored with Willy but staves off his brutal verbal abuse with a kind smile and a gently loving pat on the arm.   Biff has made a lot of bad choices and blames his father for all the trouble he has gotten into, including jail time. Happy only wants for himself, and that’s probably the worst trait a man can have.


The director Corky Dominguez has taken on yeoman’s work on this play and there are some brilliant moments. There’s still more work to be done. Hats off to the supporting cast members of this production that were outstanding and lifted the play into the stratosphere.  They filled the production with so much humor, invention, and life and it is a reason to see this show.


Vance Valencia has his moments as the obstreperous Willy Loman, but hope is the key factor of this piece and without that we lose sight of how Willy is to overcome the problems he is facing, and he must dramatically move a solution to exhaustion until he is ultimately defeated. Valencia has a strong presence, dramatic at times, and moving with fluidity on stage but one was questioning his choices and how they related to the finality of the play. Certainly, more could be made of the shamefaced regret that provokes him to his final action.


There is much to enjoy of Christine Avila’s performance as Linda Loman. Her love for her husband is the dominate character trait. Linda is trying to save him, and she must use her wills to accomplish that goal. A force of silent deferential, she is always on her husband’s side but there are a couple of things that should give her clues about the kind of man he is - one is the nylon stockings, the other is the mention of “the woman” which passes by her without any kind of ineffectuality. There is more to be had from that moment. The telephone conversation between her and her first born is played to perfection.


Eddie Diaz does well as Biff Loman but missing most is the backstory of the character. The hotel scene with his father in the hotel should be part of his backstory including the moment he is introduced in his opening moments of the play. Biff is pertinaciously holding on to his playing card to use as he is willing to use it.  It is the emotional undercurrent of everything he does and feels on stage, the thing that provokes him in imaginative and emotional ways.


Adam Hollick plays Happy Loman and has some very fine moments on stage. One being taking notice of the fireworks going off all around the theatre on this night. Hollick is a fine actor but there is more to be had in his objective.




Jack Bernaz is fantastic as Uncle Ben.  The character is supremely defined, and his work is brilliantly executed.  


Daniel E. Mora is Charley. Charley is the next-door neighbor and is disheveled as though he just woke up, got out of his La-Z-Boy recliner, and came over to see what the fuss was all about. But that’s also how he appeared in his office in the second act despite wearing a suit. He is a successful businessman, but his hair and beard appearance are not suited for a businessman with stature of money and middle-class wealth. Charley has a very pleasant demeanor and an unembarrassed friendliness, and Mora plays that well, not letting Willy get away with insulting him. There is more room for Mora to be much more compassionate when dealing with the likes of that man. Still, not a bad interpretation of the role and ultimately successful in many ways.




Jared Treviño is excellent as Bernard. Throughout he is very inquisitive even through the second act. The character is well defined and moves with the confidence of a respected, but humble lawyer. This is a performance to go see and take note of.


Leah Verrill is The Woman. She is a transactional woman, petulantly playful, who in the end only wants her nylons, caring little for Willy. There is an interesting matter in which she runs out of the bathroom and outs Willy in the hotel room and for the actor a very creative choice must be made. Verrill has a very strong voice, is successful on many fronts, and brings a grand physical life to the character.




Jeff Blumberg is very efficacious as Howard Wagner, a man who has taken over his father’s business. Blumberg captures the moment when the play congeals and moves it in a very serious direction. His work has depth and meaning and is important in its intensity.




Fresh faced Chloe Diaz is impressive as Jenny. Jenny is compassionate and is looking out for her boss as well. In her time on stage Diaz manages to memorably fill the role.


Gor Leo Babakhanyan brings a lot of creative work to the role of Stanley, the waiter. His work is imaginative and infectious.




Kriss Dozel is the stunning Miss Forsythe and manages to have her way with the boys as they try to take advantage of her. Her work is impressive as well as creative.


Mariana Campos is very funny as Letta and brings a lot of life to the character.


Marco De Leon, Set Designer, creates a very functional set for the actors to employ their magic. Symbolically structured with angles and floating suitcases. Lorenzo Tambriz and Jeremiah Ocañas gave life to the project as set builders.


Costume Designer Abel Alvarado always impresses with his costumes that are very functional and one thinks he outdid himself in this venture. Jules Bronola was the wardrobe assistant and Omar Gutierrez did the hair and makeup keeping us in the time frame of the period.


This is a huge show made up of many parts and other members of the crew are as follows:


Ari Rich – Stage Manager

Max Brother – Sound Designer

Kevin E. Vasquez – Lighting Designer

Roberta H. Martinez – Assistant Director

Roberta H. Martinez, Itzel Ocampo – Voiceovers

Cesar Castro – Sound Composer

Danny Mora – Fight Choreographer

Jorge Villanueva – Board Operator

Doreen Sanchez – Assistant Stage Manager

Andy James Garcia – Prop Master

Al Aquilar – Production Assistant

Steve Moyer – Press Representative

Itzel Ocampo – Casa 0101Administrator

Rudy Torres, Doreen Sanchez – Production Photographer

Soap Studio, Inc. – Playbill Design


As a matter of record that on this night Saturday June 24, 2023, a fireworks parks display was in full force.  Also, the electricity went off twice. The production resumed and Casa 0101 was gracious to allow anyone to come back and see the show again at no cost.


Run! Run! 



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