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Theater Review: 'Death of a Salesman' -- 3.5 stars

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Andrew Garfield and Finn Wittrock

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Andrew Garfield and Finn Wittrock in “Death of a Salesman.” (Brigitte Lacombe) Photo Credit: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Andrew Garfield and Finn Wittrock in “Death of a Salesman”(Brigitte Lacombe)

Death of a Salesman
3.5 stars

More than 60 years after its Broadway premiere, Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" remains an engrossing, devastating and relevant tragedy of the lower-rung everyman.

Its protagonist, Willy Loman, earnestly believes that he can achieve great success by being "well liked" and teaches his two sons to believe the same. But after years on the road selling merchandise, he is unceremoniously fired for having become an embarrassment to his company.

His wife Linda, aware that Willy is on the brink of suicide, can only attempt to build up his self-esteem. His son Biff, a high school football hero turned jaded bum, desperately wants his father to see him as he really is. But Willy is too far into the depths of delirium to accept the truth or be helped.

Mike Nichols, who staged an awful production of Clifford Odets' "The Country Girl" four years ago, returns in fine form with this very well-acted revival. He pays homage to Elia Kazan's original production by using Jo Mielziner's expressionistic scenic design of a confined Brooklyn house and Alex North's haunting score.

At age 44, Philip Seymour Hoffman is still too young to be playing the 60-year-old Willy Loman. In a kind of dazed stupor, his Loman effortlessly switches between his out-of-control egotism and his private fears and insecurities. Still, Hoffman lacks the commanding ferocity that Brian Dennehy brought to the role in the 1999 Broadway revival.

Rising film star Andrew Garfield, also too young for his role as Biff, holds his ground against Hoffman as they roar back and forth, and he emphasizes Biff's shame and discomfort. Finn Wittrock also makes a strong impression as the overlooked sibling Happy.

Linda Emond gives a radiant performance as Linda, stressing the character's unconditional love for Willy and her sober-minded ability to understand the realities of his situation. When she pronounces the now well-known line that "attention must be paid," a chill pervades the theater.

If you go: "Death of a Salesman" plays at the Barrymore Theatre through June 2. 243 W. 47th St., 212-239-6200,


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