In any field, strong material always gives practitioners a leg up.
Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” is a time-tested crowd-pleaser and Vienna Theater Company’s rendition, directed by Rosemary Hartman, properly honors the classic.
Traveling salesman Willy Loman (Tom Flatt) is reaching the end of his long run and finding out a harsh truth: In the sales world, all that you’ve done before counts for nothing. The money one is bringing in right now is all that matters. Perform now or get out.
Flatt does a terrific job as washed-up Willy, who still gins up the required enthusiasm, but is feeling crushed and desperate under mounting bills and diminished job prospects.
Willy has made a life talking up himself and his sons, but it’s all a delusion. It’s tough to blame Willy for this, as his profession requires upbeat bravado and confidence. Even the smallest hint of doubt or negativity can kill a sale.
One son, former star athlete Biff (Patrick Killoran), has amounted to nothing as a result of regular petty thievery and self-sabotage. The other son, Happy (Michael Angeloni), is dissolute and complacent, and wastes his life chasing after women with equally questionable morals.
Apart from Willy, the role of Biff probably is the play’s most pivotal and Killoran is up to the task. Biff acknowledges his failures, fights to tell his father the truth and keeps silent when burdened with a horrible secret.
Willy’s wife, Linda (Gayle Nichols-Grimes), always tries to be loving and supportive, but that hasn’t been enough for Willy, who visits his mistress (played by Erin Gallalee) on out-of-town sales trips.
Watching Linda eventually stand up for herself and castigate the good-for-nothings around her is one of the play’s highlights. She’s the character for whom one feels sorriest at the play’s end.
The 1949 play is dated a bit by the characters’ copious (feigned) smoking, drinking, sexist references and frequent bouts of violence.
As his life spirals downward to its inevitable end, Willy communes with dead Uncle Ben (Eric Storck), a white-suited angel with a calming presence.
Supporting players do a fine job in the performance. There’s Ric Andersen, whose Bernard is a nerdy childhood friend of Biff and Hap, but later becomes a successful lawyer by summoning the self-discipline his pals could not. The childhood scenes of Bernard, Hap and Biff horsing around are delightful, with Killoran demonstrating his physical prowess.
Bernard’s father, Charley (Steve Rosenthal), serves as a common-sense moral compass of the play.
Reece Smyth is both understandable and dislikable as Willy’s annoyed boss, Howard, who first distracts him from asking for a much-needed raise and then deals a harsh blow.
The set designed by George Farnsworth shows the Loman family’s cramped bedrooms and kitchen, while a black curtain occasionally descends to isolate tables for restaurant scenes.
Director Rosemary Hartman obtains fine performances from the cast. The crew’s work also is solid, with Jon Roberts providing sound design and projections, Ari Mcsherry lighting the set, Jocelyn Steiner designing properties and dressing the set, Farrell Hartigan and Juliana Cofrancesco doing the costume design and Steve Lada coordinating the stage combat.
The theme of “Life is a struggle and then you die” is downbeat, to be certain, but it resonates with adults who’ve lived long enough to recognize its truth. Vienna Theatre Company’s production captures that unyielding reality while making most of the characters sympathetic and relatable.
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“Death of a Salesman” runs through May 8 at the Vienna Community Center, 120 Cherry St., S.E. Shows are at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. on Sundays. For information and tickets, visit www.viennatheatrecompany.org.