Last Friday night I traveled that straight, flat stretch of I-64 between Charlottesville (heaven) and Richmond (my personal hell) to see Firehouse Theatre’s production of Death of a Salesman. Earlier in the week, I interviewed director Rusty Wilson and based on my knowledge of Rusty’s talent and the reviews, I was prepared to be blown away.
The play was good, but I was not blown away but as you may recall, I was hands down the snarkiest critic in town during my 4.5 year tenure as a theatre reviewer for STYLE WEEKLY (and if you are unfamiliar with my critical work click here).
I will tell you what I did like about the play, however because these people were very good and deserve to be mentioned, and made the show worth the trip:
1. Dean Knight as Bernard the egghead next door neighbor boy who helps Biff cheat on his Math tests. Knight, traditionally is not one of my favorite actors (apologies, Dean, you are a great guy and very enthusiastic) but he has matured over the years and did a bang up job converting from the young, kind of spazzy Bernard in the first act to the older, collected version who is depicted in the second act as going off to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court. He convinced me his character was a real, multi-dimensional person even though the role is small. Kudos. After this performance, I confess, I look forward to Knight’s next role. (Hope he invites me.)
2. Gordon Bass as Charley, Willy’s neighbor (Bernard’s father) and only friend. Bass is just a fantastic actor. I often forget who I am watching on stage because he has a way of letting the character just radiate out of him like Anthony Hopkins who can be in a movie and I don’t realize its him until about half-way through because he is so much the character. Charley is a normal guy who functions like a normal person and Bass embodies that in a way to contrast Willy’s delusions to a “T” without getting lost or overpowered. I felt Charley’s frustration with Willy towards the end when he offers the newly fired Willy a job and he refuses. That was simply good acting delivered by an actor who understands how to serve the play.
3. Adrian Rieder as Biff, Willy’s confused, late bloomer son. Rieder said to me after the play that the role was not a stretch for him. Hah! Perhaps not in the sense that he and the character are the same age and maybe but I don’t really know are struggling with the same issues (Thanks to some rude person who butted into our conversation, Rieder failed to finish telling me why he felt the role was not a stretch.) But the level of emotion and inner dialog that Rieder conveyed would suggest that the role was at least challenging in achieving the quality of performance Rieder gave. I really got the sense of Biff’s crucial transformation from living in Willy’s dream world to stepping into reality and acceptance of himself in the world. When I stood during the standing ovation, I stood for Rieder. Well done!
To be fair to everyone else in the show- everyone I talked to after the play (as in audience members) thoroughly enjoyed the show, including my mother who saw it the next night.
It is a classic American piece and should be seen performed so I suggest, if you haven’t seen it and have yet to buy a ticket, hustle over to the Firehouse website and take care of that oversight right now. (click here for Firehouse website).
See you at the theatre!