Miller’s classic tragedy returns to Toledo RepWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Arthur Miller’s classic American tragedy “Death of a Salesman” was first performed in 1949, but it has remained astoundingly relevant to audiences all the way to the present day. The story of a man in the waning days of his career — and ultimately his life — the show deals with issues that theatergoers can still identify with.
“The key crisis in the play deals with the loyal worker who finds himself redundant in a changing economic world. No one needs a salesman anymore,” director F. Scott Regan said in an interview with Toledo Free Press Star. “And he’s hung so much of his ego onto his job that he questions his values as a human being. And I think in an area like Toledo, there’s certainly a lot of that going around, in terms of the job world changing.”
Now, as part of the Toledo Repertoire Theatre’s 80th anniversary year, Regan will be directing a production of “Salesman” running from April 19 through 28, with prominent local actor Michael Searle in the role of Willy Loman.
“It’s a play that actors love to do. There’s so many meaty parts,” Regan said. “Certainly there was an indication with the auditions. We had such a tremendous turnout — much more than they normally have for a non-musical. People who just know the play and have always wanted to participate in it.”
Despite decades of experience directing plays at all levels of theater, Regan had never actually tackled Miller’s masterpiece before this production. “I had requested a directing slot and was interviewed by the artistic director, Steve Burnette,” he said.
“I had put ['Death of a Salesman'] down as my number one choice. And apparently none of the other potential directors had wanted this as their first choice.”
Small wonder, as putting up a show as beloved and well-known as “Salesman” can seem daunting to even the most seasoned director. But Regan is not one to back down from such challenges, and has worked to put his own spin on Miller’s masterpiece.
“I’ve sort of tried to be faithful to the script and the story. There’s two adjustments that I’ve made — one is the musical score that accompanies it is going to be a little more modern, and we’re using a lot of what might be called ‘new age’ music as opposed to what might be the traditional music.”
The other major adjustment is a matter of casting. “In the play, because of flashbacks, we see Biff and Happy as middle-aged men, and then they come running out with a football and pretend that they’re Biff and Happy when they’re teenagers. And I have double-cast those roles,” Regan added. “So we have young people who are basically high-school age who are playing Biff and Happy when they’re young.”
The rehearsal process has been ongoing for the past few months, with auditions occurring before Christmas. Regan noted that coordinating the schedules of a large group of community theater performers — who, after all, have real jobs and lives to balance — is one of the major challenges of putting on such a production.
“One of the characters came in just the other night and said, ‘My boss has changed my job schedule.’ And the actors aren’t paid, so you can’t say, ‘Sorry, you signed up for this first.’ And those kinda things — it’s not that they’re not dedicated, but they have other life requirements that sometimes are challenging to find a schedule to work out. We’ve got everything from secretaries to students to salesmen and retired people in the cast.”
But Regan, who has years of work in educational theater under his belt as well, notes that there are certain advantages to using community actors, as well.
“Unlike a college theater, you have the opportunity to use people who are the correct age, you know. Unless you bring in a guest actor … it’s easier to find actors who are the right age when you’re doing community theater. And you have more diverse, in terms of experience. You have people who are fully trained in terms of acting techniques, and others who are, perhaps, in their first or second play,” he stated. “It’s trying to find what works best for each actor, which I guess is true for many plays.”
And after a lifetime of experience in the theater, Regan noted it’s nice to work with an organization like the Rep — especially when you’re used to doing many aspects of a production yourself.
“I just like the variety and professionalism that they offer there. It’s nice that someone else is writing the program and making the posters, and you really can just concentrate on your job. And in other situations you really don’t have the luxury of collaborating with other artists to get their ideas.”
The Toledo Repertoire Theatre’s production of “Death of a Salesman” opens Friday, April 19 at 8 pm and runs for the next two weekends. For more information, contact the Rep at (419) 243-9277.