It's not often an actor gets two chances to play any role, much less a dramatic icon like Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's award-winning "Death of a Salesman."
Christopher Lowell, widely known for his portrayal of Ben Franklin, is giving Loman a second shot. The first was at TheatreWorks in 1991 under Murray Ross' direction. Local actor Tom Paradise is also back for a second time. He played Biff, Loman's son, in 1991. This time he'll play Uncle Ben. The newest production opens Thursday.
"We have all lived 22 years," Lowell says, "so we are marked by life, with its ups and downs, and (you) can bring that depth to the production. It's like listening to a rich orchestral piece - different parts pop up at you and speak to you at different parts of your life. That happened to me with this play. I didn't quite see this richness before."
Miller wrote "Death of a Salesman" in 1949, and earned a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award under the direction of Elia Kazan. Lee J. Cobb played the first Willy, a 63-year-old workaholic (before the word had even been coined) who's spent his life supporting his family and struggling to find worth. The core of the play, Lowell says, is Loman's relationship with Biff. He wants to see his son succeed more than anything, but they are at odds on the definition of success.
"Many of us have trouble loving our parents and children in ways that are most helpful for them," Lowell says. "And we have trouble forgiving them the sins we see. We are often so critical of our parents and children, even our grown children, that we fail to see their assets or fail to really listen to them."
It is considered by many to be the greatest American play ever written, Lowell says.
"It speaks to the striving of the American male to provide for his family," he says. "It's the old idea of success being tied into business success. It is an old idea, and we have moved a bit past that now, but it's so very American to believe that you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps."
"Death of a Salesman" has been revived on Broadway five times, winning three Tony Awards for best revival, as well as a countless number in regional and community theaters. And it has attracted big names through the decades, including Philip Seymour Hoffman, who played Loman on Broadway in 2012.
"As the story of the last, deluded days of Willy Loman (Mr. Hoffman) is spun out, Miller's patterns of imagery fit into place with clean, audible clicks," wrote critic Ben Brantley of The New York Times. "You admire every detail of construction and leave the Barrymore (Theatre) feeling that you have learned something of worth."
Ultimately, the play is about family, Lowell says, a topic we can all relate to. It lends to the enduring nature of Miller's classic.
"It has the misunderstandings and lack of empathy and inability to communicate that marks so many families in so many cultures still," Lowell says. "We in the audience can see the weaknesses here of these people, but somehow they affect us and they get under our skin."
Other Willy Lomans
- Lee J. Cobb, 1949
- George C. Scott, 1975 (he directed as well)
- Dustin Hoffman, 1984
- Brian Dennehy, 1999
- Christopher Lloyd, 2010
- Philip Seymour Hoffman, 2012
Lowell's favorite lines
"Oh, Ben, how do we get back to all the great times? Used to be so full of light, and comradeship, the sleigh riding in winter, and the ruddiness on his cheeks. And always some kind of good news coming up, always something nice coming up ahead."
Reviews circa 1991
"Actor Christopher Lowell is superb as Willy Loman. ... He plays him emotionally as a guy in denial, letting moments of artificial energy and happiness provide a thin cover for monumental worries. Lowell's Willy is lovable and pathetic in a performance that cuts to the emotional quick," Linda Terhune, May 10, 1991, Gazette Telegraph.
"Christopher Lowell plays Willie in a brilliant performance. Watching him reminisce on the past is a moving experience, he shares his pain candidly with the audience," Laura Austin, May 5, 1991, The Scribe, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs student newspaper.
"Death of a Salesman"
Cast: Christopher Lowell, Susan Bachman, Jesse Wilson, Josh Sienkiewicz
Director: Murray Ross
Running time: 3 hours, includes one 15-minute intermission
When: Opens Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Nov. 2 and 9, 4 p.m. Sundays, runs through Nov. 10
Where: Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater, 3955 Regent Circle, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
Tickets: $35, $15 15 and younger, free UCCS students, no kids under 5; 255-3232, theatreworkscs.org.
Something else: Prologues lectures include director Murray Ross at 2:30 p.m. Sunday; Pulitzer Prize-winning playwriter Paula Vogel ("How I Learned to Drive") at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 4; and Tony-winning lighting designer Brian MacDevitt at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 10
Contact Jennifer Mulson at 636-0270.