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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, November 12, 2002

HPU theater has a live one in its 'Death of a Salesman'

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Advertiser Theater Critic

 •  'Death of a Salesman'

7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 7

Hawaii Pacific University

$14; discounts for students, seniors


In "Death of a Salesman" at Hawaii Pacific University, the cast is uniformly excellent at reaching deep into character, the pace and timing are superb, and the ensemble effect is both subtle and powerful. Joyce Maltby directs a solid production.

It also doesn't hurt that the Arthur Miller play is considered by some to be the best American play ever written.

The 1949 play applies ancient Greek dramatic principles to a commonplace anti-hero, traveling salesman Willy Loman. At the end of his career and near physical and mental exhaustion, Willy's fate is made clear by the play's title.

His tragic character flaw is that he lives in a created reality built on supreme confidence in a smile and a shoeshine. But after a lifetime of espousing unrelenting competition, Willy is left with crumbling personal relationships.

The play is also Miller's statement against the American middle-class myth of unending prosperity that ignored the twin realities of the Cold War abroad and increasing class tensions at home.

Broader statements aside, the HPU production succeeds on the human level.

Don Pomes creates a vivid performance as the demanding central character. Pomes shows us a Willy very near breakdown and increasingly unable to differentiate between memory, imagination and daily routine. At one moment he is angry or stubbornly insistent. The next, he is lost is a haze of past voices.

The role is physically demanding, with the character on stage almost continuously during the play's three hours. Pomes' approach is relentless in pressing the character against inevitable odds. Willy's mild dementia grows to panic and ultimately to the desperation that fuels his tragic end.

Scot Davis is also excellent as the eldest son, Biff. A high school hero, now lost on his own life path, Biff helps Willy conceal a dark incident that precipitated their estrangement. But as Biff travels through the play, he comes to greater personal clarity. The two characters' final confrontation is wrenching and memorable.

Sylvia Hormann-Alper helps anchor the family as steadfast wife Linda. It's a reactive role, quietly supportive, but punctuated with moments of fierce defense for a man to whom "attention must be paid." Hormann-Alper neatly underplays the emotion until the role demands its release.

The supporting characters are clearly created and without a false note among them.

Joshua Gulledge is convincing as Happy, the wastrel younger son. Hank Chapin is the realistic and understanding neighbor Charlie, and Brad Powell is appropriately chilling as the vision of Willy's successful older brother Ben.

Virginia has the necessary warmth as the Woman, Chris Veatch nicely matures as Bernard, and Russel Motter is appropriately unfeeling as Willy's boss, Howard.

Michael Walters' set and Cathie Anderson's lighting allow for multiple locales to coexist in the small playing area, and Dennis Graue's sound design underscores and heightens the emotion.

HPU offers a small gem with this production — polished and emotionally uncompromising.