Rusty Wilson has earned my endorsement as FEARLESS over the years as he has deftly tackled some of the most intimidating classics mid-twentieth century theatre has to offer like “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”. His latest foray into this genre is Arthur Miller’s, “Death of a Salesman” now playing with an extended run at the Firehouse Theatre Project in Richmond. I am thrilled to be going to see the show tonight as I know, that this cast, headed by Richmond acting icon,Joe Inscoe as Willy Loman, under Wilson’s careful guidance will produce something worth the effort to get to Richmond.
I wondered why Wilson wanted to do this play as it is so wrapped up in expectations forged in High School and College studies of American Literature. So we arranged to chat via telephone. Here is part of that conversation:
CN: What vision did you have for this play? Why do it at all?
RW: You know, I had no idea how to direct this play and which is often the thing that gets me interested in directing a play – because I don’ t know how to do it. (laughs) I feel that it is a really timely story at this moment given all of the crap our nation has been going through in terms of this divided electorate, who’s for what and who’s against what and where our values lie. I thought that Mr. Miller had some things to share with us about that.
CN: How does this play relate to today’s economy?
RW: It is definitely a statement on the “American Dream” What do we value? Do we value personality or do we value what’s on the surface? Do we strictly value individualism for its own sake? Do we value a more collective approach to National Health?
Willy Loman has failed because his dream is false. For a guy who places all his eggs in the basket of being liked of having friends and having a personality that people are attracted to, he dies alone. Nobody comes to his funeral. He actually had no friends. He says to his next door neighbor, a guy he can’t stand who he yells at all the time, “Charlie, you’re the only friend I got.” He’s 63 years old and spent his life trying to be liked and trying to please people. It is shallow. But unfortunately by the end of the play he still hasn’t learned anything.
CN: So How did you decide how to direct this play?
RW: First of all, I cast it really well. I cast it a good ways out so I could get people who knew how I worked and would serve the play really well. But it’s kind of like I do every play, I come in with a big question mark. I let the appropriate, relevant and pertinent questions reveal themselves and then try on a daily basis to find solutions to those problems. Actually not having the answers is what attracts me to directing a play.
CN: What did you discover about the play as you explored it during the rehearsal process?
RW: For me the play has always been about values. On a more personal level, the dynamics between fathers and sons. It is one thing to read [the play] and another thing to watch it live. The more living we did the more clear the play became. None my perceptions about the play changed, they just crystalized a bit through the rehearsal process.
CN: Has the play influenced you as a parent at all?
RW: Oh yeah, sure. It is a reminder to really be thoughtful and responsible about what you impart to your children and how your behavior models your belief system. You know, in Willy’s case his son caught him cheating with another woman and so all of these things he had been taught, the way he idealized his father, had been a lie, in an instant it was all a sham.
Biff does finally come to a realization of who he is but it takes this whole process with his dad the last few days he is with him for it to crystalize for him.
END OF INTERVIEW
Death of a Salesman has been extended through 12/18. For more information go to: Firehouse Theatre.
See you at the theatre!