Paul R. Tetreault shares what “Death of a Salesman” tells us about the American Dream.
I am thrilled that Ford’s Theatre will open its second production of an Arthur Miller play this week, Death of a Salesman. The last was a production of Miller’s All My Sons in 1987.
Though it premiered in 1949, Death of Salesman—like all classics—sounds strikingly relevant to our modern ears. Miller was taking aim at the myth of the American dream in post-war America, but his critique continues to ring true today.
In the character of Willy Loman, Miller paints a bleak but compelling portrait of a man obsessed with money and status. This obsession has driven Willy to despair and isolated him from his family. Forced to reconcile with his own unfulfilled dreams, Willy burdens his sons with improbable hope.
The overbearing father, the long-suffering mother, the disillusioned sons. We know these types well. But Miller takes us beyond the surface, showing us the deep and profound love behind their actions. Part of what makes the play so heart-breaking is the characters’ inability to truly see each other. They are estranged from one another not from lack of love, but by fear, dishonesty and doubt.
Our production features the inimitable Craig Wallace as Willy, alongside his real-life partner, Kimberly Schraf. Both have appeared in numerous productions at Ford’s, and I am excited to see the play anew through their portrayals.
Miller once said he thought theatre could change the world. For more than 68 years, Death of a Salesman has haunted audiences with its stark and unflinching story. Today, I hope this play may make us all pause and consider—as Miller once said—“how we are to account for this little life of ours.”
Paul Tetreault is Director of Ford’s Theatre Society. Since joining Ford’s in 2004, Tetreault has enhanced the quality of the institution’s artistic programming and expanded its mission to include a stronger focus on education. He led a $50+ million capital campaign, the most extensive renovation to the theatre and museum since the building reopened to the public in 1968, and the creation of the Aftermath Exhibits at the Center for Education and Leadership. Learn more at https:/www.fords.org/about/our-director.