Death of a Salesman

The Tragic Death of a Salesman Brilliantly Performed

At intermission, the comments from audience members around me were “This isn’t what I expected.”  But by the conclusion of Death of a Salesman, the comments had changed to quietly whispered words like “oh” or “wow”.

Brilliant playwright Arthur Miller’s tragedy, Death of a Salesman, is now on stage at St. Jacobs Country Playhouse.  It is a far cry from the usual Drayton Entertainment comedies and musicals.  Starring George Wendt in the classic role of Willy Loman, this play is selling out quickly.  Unfortunately, the audience arrives to see ‘Norm from Cheers’, expecting a typical Drayton Entertainment comedy.  Fortunately, they are given an excellent piece of drama, well directed and well acted; a look back at America in 1949, offering a timeless message.  

In the opening scene, the audience laughs at Willy as he slumps in the door of his Brooklyn home.  But as the story progresses, the laughter becomes increasingly awkward, until it disappears completely, and the audience realizes they are seeing the total undoing of a man’s life before their eyes.

Death of a Salesman is the story of Willy Loman, a man who takes great pride in his sales abilities.  He brags constantly that he is well liked and has the largest territory, exaggerating his income.  He also has great hopes for his son Biff, who was a high school football star, and could have gone to university on scholarship if he hadn’t failed math.  He still believes that Biff and his brother, Hap, will do great things and come into their own.

In reality, Willy is a failure at his job and gets fired, and both sons are ne’er-do-wells.  Biff is a drifter who has spent time in jail for theft, and Hap is a philanderer who has a menial job.  But Willy has bragged and fantasized for so long, he now believes his own glorified lies. Then aging takes its toll.  As reality sets in, he hallucinates, talking out loud to his own brother about what could have been, reliving affairs he had with women on the road, and talking to his sons as if they were back in high school.  He tells the boys to steal from the construction site next door, and cheat on their school exams, then wonders where they went wrong.  Sadly, his wife, Linda, goes along with his lies, yet he treats her badly.

The dialogue is brilliantly written; a condemnation of the so-called American dream.  One can’t help but think of President Trump – when he says ‘Make American Great Again’, is this picture of life in 1949 where he wants to take America? The good old days just weren’t that good.  One also thinks of Willy Loman as Trump: someone who has lied, exaggerated and embellished the truth so often that he actually believes his own B.S.

An exceptional cast has been assembled to present this classic:  George Wendt shows great depth in the role of Willy, proving that he is much more than the comedic role he had in the TV show Cheers.  His authenticity, as he moves from braggadocio to dejection, is gripping.

Martha Irving is perfect as his wife, Linda.  She shows her exhaustion as Willy wears on her, then in the flashbacks, we can see her transform to being energetic and hopeful.

Skye Brandon as Biff gives an excellent, emotion-filled performance, first trying so hard to please his father, then making his riveting attack on Willy’s lack of reality.  Jeffrey Wetsch is flawless as Biff:  like his father, he is fooling himself into thinking he’s living the good life, but Wetsch shows how Biff has snippets of reality.  The remaining seven cast members are all outstanding, giving great performances in support of the main four characters.

Credit goes to Director Marti Maradan for assembling this cast.  Her 18 years’ experience as an actor and director at the Stratford Festival is apparent as she shows her brilliant abilities with tragedy/drama.  This is an excellent production of Death of a Salesman: gut-wrenching, gripping, and authentic.  It leaves you with so much to think about.  Take the opportunity to see this classic, and appreciate the amazing versatility of George Wendt.

Death of a Salesman continues with eight shows a week until November 4 at St. Jacobs Country Playhouse, St. Jacobs. Tickets are available by calling Toll Free 1-855-372-9866 or Local Box Office 519-747-7788 or check

Photo: Jeffrey Wetsch as Happy, George Wendt as Willy and Skye Brandon as Biff in Death of a Salesman. Photo by Hilary Gauld Camilleri.

Death of a Salesman
By Arthur Miller
Directed by Marti Maraden
Performed by George Wendt, Martha Irving, Skye Brandon, Jeffrey Wetsch, et al
Produced by Drayton Entertainment
St. Jacobs Country Playhouse, St. Jacobs
October 20 to November 4, 2017
Reviewed by Mary Alderson


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