We enjoy getting emails and online comments from our Fountain audiences as we open and run our stage productions. Keeping an open and ongoing dialogue between artists and audiences is vitally important to us. Preview audiences are now getting an early look at our Los Angeles Premiere of My Name Is Asher Lev — and they love what they’re seeing. Audiences are leaping to their feet in standing ovations. Here are a few comments posted by patrons after seeing our first two previews this weekend:
” A beautifully written and superbly acted play. Never have I seen a play where there is passion in every single scene, in every single line. A true theater-goer’s gift.” – Terry
“I thoroughly enjoyed this dynamic dramatic presentation based on the Chaim Potok novel. The three member cast is strong and convincing in the multiple characters they portrayed. The play presents the relationship and strains in an orthodox Jewish family in Brooklyn when the mother and father have to deal with a son impelled from childhood to draw and paint; artistic endeavors not valued by his family nor the Hasidic community in which they are embedded . The play offers a glimpse into the customs, religious practices and values of a Hasidic family.” – Zamira P.
“This is one moving piece of theatre ! Bravo to all!” – Barbara G.
“I’m happy I was there! So wonderful!” – Rhoda
“Loved My Name is Asher Lev! Get thee to the Fountain!” – Barbara B.
We invite you to come see what folks are raving about. Discount previews continue this week, Wednesday through Friday. We officially open this Saturday, February 22nd and run to Apirl 19th.
If you’re anything like me, you probably found yourself down at the theatre in college in large part because you wanted nothing to do with the business school. You felt drawn to expressing yourself creatively in an environment that allowed for, even praised, your uniqueness, your eccentricities and your lack of desire to do high-level math. If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t fully comprehend business terms like “overhead” and “distribution outlet.”
If you’re anything like me, you went to graduate school because you wanted to be able to do anything onstage, you wanted to stretch and challenge yourself not only as a performer but as an artist. If you’re anything like me, you probably left graduate school feeling like you could do anything and that “the business” didn’t know what was about to hit it.
If you’re a professional actor and you’re anything like me, you’re probably figuring out how to pay your rent, your loans and remain connected to the joy you once felt offstage left.
I take a stab at self-revelation: “I view my acting career as my own start-up business. It’s something I ‘go to work’ to do. Every day, I attempt to promote, expand and grow Bryce Pinkham, Inc.”
In theory, and aside from the terribly uninventive name, it sounds smart: I am building my own business and that business is “me.” I know I’m not the first actor to attempt to use this model; in fact, I’m sure I stole it from somebody else. And yet, as I’m describing this approach out loud, it seems somewhat absurd: How can I claim to run a business when I don’t know the first thing about business? I’ve never even taken a business class. While college roommates were throwing around words like “capitalization” and “accrued interest,” I was geeking out about iambic pentameter and Uta Hagen.
One of the handicaps actors who train in the theatre face is that we enter “the market” believing we can do anything. It’s not our fault; it’s part of our training. But from a business standpoint, “I do everything” might not be the wisest approach. Imagine an entrepreneur who goes to school to be a computer programmer and then shows up at his first tech fair selling iPhone apps (software), a new smartphone (hardware) and cases (accessories). Not only is this entrepreneur going to lose valuable time and energy running back and forth among three different booths at the fair, he is going to confuse potential costumers as to what his brand actually sells.
Imagine a different programmer showing up with just his best product: an iPhone app to compete with Apple Maps. He happens to program apps particularly well and he’s found a demand in the market (I mean, have you tried using the new Apple Maps?). His app sells like hotcakes. After selling apps for five years, he goes on to sell things no one would necessarily expect from him: phones, accessories, games, a whole search engine—he’s the Marlon Brando of the geek elite, but only because he started small.
I know comparing actors to computer programmers is more than a stretch, but the point that Marcia DeBonis has helped me realize is that an entrepreneur does not try to conquer the market all at once by saying he can do everything. Initially, he seeks to enter the market in any way possible. Marcia believes it’s the same for young actors: It may be true that we do many things really well, but at first, maybe we should just focus on what we have that will sell, and conversely, what we have that won’t.
“Don’t give them any more reasons to say no to you,” Marcia beseeches. “If you have bad legs, don’t come into an audition wearing a miniskirt just because miniskirts are in style.” She explains that many actors, in their desire to say “yes” to everything, end up misrepresenting themselves: “If you’re a character actress, don’t describe yourself as a young Meg Ryan. Don’t say, ‘Yes, I’m funny,’ unless you mean it; it’s really easy to find out that you’re not.” These warnings may be tough to swallow after three or more years of teachers encouraging a young actor to stretch himself, to say “yes” to every opportunity and challenge, but they are business lessons that may be crucial for survival. By the end of my interview with Marcia, one thing is abundantly clear: Too many young actors are entering our field without sufficient focus.
But there’s the rub: Maybe one reason business is so hard for actors is because we do take everything personally. We’re supposed to: We train our brains to take imaginary circumstances personally. So how can we be expected not to take the same approach to every interaction in our real lives? In fact, our “business” is so closely tied to who we are and what we look like, it’s almost impossible not to have our feelings hurt when someone doesn’t want to buy our product. We’re artists because we didn’t want to be salesmen.
It’s hard to improvise with strangers at commercial auditions when we trained in ensembles to perform the words of Shakespeare and Chekhov for hundreds of live audience members. It’s hard to pick up the phone and complain to an agent we worked so hard to get, or to turn down an acting job because it doesn’t pay more than unemployment. It’s hard to shamelessly promote ourselves on Twitter and Facebook when our acting idols are monuments to humility. It’s easier for us to dream about the future than it is for us to get down to the nitty-gritty of the present.
But at the end of the day, we are the only ones responsible for the success of our business. It’s not up to a casting director or an agent or a director. It’s not all luck—it’s business, and whether it feels good or not, it’s how entrepreneurs survive.
Remember, if you’ve made it far enough that you consider acting your profession, you probably have a natural sense of purpose and the backbone to shoulder more than the average José. If your skin crawls at the idea of trying to sell anything, let alone yourself, try approaching the challenge as you would approach a role. As former talent agent Phil Carlson suggested to me, think about it as “the acting you have to do in order to get to do any acting.”
It may seem unnatural at first, but after some practice, you’ll make people believe it’s real. After all, though you probably weren’t calling it “entrepreneurship” back then, if you’re anything like me, you’ve been hustling your product ever since you stumbled onto that first homemade stage—you know, the one with the raggedy old sheets you pinned up for curtains and the priority seating for stuffed animals—and bellowed with the confidence of a seasoned veteran, “Hey, guys! Look at me!”
How do we make a life in the theater in the twenty-first century while still managing to pay our bills?
The myth of the starving artist is, unfortunately, alive and well in some sectors of the arts—particularly in the theater. I can say that Art saved me, but as in all complicated endeavors, I can also say the opposite. I can say that Art tried, many times over, to murder me in my sleep. My desire to live my life as an artist forced me into ghettos where I dodged bullets, and into days in which the only lunch I could afford was a stolen handful of nuts from a Whole Foods bin. This is not romantic. It’s stupid. I eventually decided: no more.
And I’m not the only one. Artists everywhere have surfaced and said: no more. No more mythic Icarus ramming itself into the sun and melting into the ocean. There’s a way in which that same Icarus can fly, spanned wings across the sky, safe, and yet still beautiful, even awe-inspiring. What I want to argue here, is that the theater and the performing arts are lagging behind other arts—we’re standing in the wings, while the action is taking place on other people’s stages. Television writers, novelists, Young Adult writers, illustrators—all of these artists have found a way to embrace millennial capitalism (for lack of a better term; call it “late capitalism” if you like)—and the theater has been late to catch up.
This is a vision acutely in line with the contemporary generation of neo-hipsters and millennials. “Today’s ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it’s the small business. Every artistic or moral aspiration—music, food, good works, what have you—is expressed in those terms. . . call it Generation Sell,” wrote William Deresiewicz in an article for The New York Timesin November of last year. “Our culture hero is not the artist or reformer, not the saint or scientist,” continues Deresiewicz, “but the entrepreneur. (Think of Steve Jobs, our new deity). Autonomy, adventure, imagination; entrepreneurship comprehends all this and more for us. The characteristic art form of our age may be the business plan.”
To sell does not mean to sell-out. At least not the way it used to. The playwright can either play-in or lose out.
The novelist has already adhered. “These guys [contemporary novelists] are acutely aware of the multiple audiences for which they write,” says Szalay, whose upcoming new book is entitled The Novel After HBO. He continues: “For a generation of novelists that began to achieve fame and distinction in the early twenty-first century—like Michael Chabon, Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Lethem, Colson Whitehead, Junot Diaz, and Dana Spiotta—the term ‘sell-out’ just doesn’t apply.”
For performing artists to be able to adhere, our attitude towards money has to change. In a recent article. “A Dancer’s Retort,” in The Huffington Post, Brittany Beyer, dancer and associate editor of The Dance Enthusiast, also calls for a new form of operation in the performing arts. She writes:
One important issue is the dance artist’s attitude towards money. Many of us have been brought up with the idea that our field is beyond a job— to be an artist is almost a sacred calling. If you have ever danced you will understand. We love our art form and have the conviction that it does others good. With integrity and passion we put our bodies—our very selves—on the line to create. Our work is beyond a job description; in many ways it is a life’s practice or a life’s mission. How does one monetize that?
Healers are “sacred” too, aren’t they? Doctors, for instance. And we pay them, don’t we? We pay them a bundle. There is a whole other discussion here about health care in this country and about what we do and do not value socially and who gets access. The point, for now is—why should artists be poor? Other life missions and practices are paid for. If we pay people to heal our bodies, why shouldn’t we pay them to heal our souls? Perhaps this seems trite, cheesy, or too sincere. But, I think it’s true. And, truthfully, I don’t care about it sounding “too sincere.” Irony is no longer king.
We cannot live without money. We cannot produce art without money. It seems to me impossible not to monetize the result of an artistic process. And, it seems sillier still to pretend like art and money have nothing to do with each other. As soon as artists realize this, the better off we will be. This mindset becomes dangerous when producers, not creatives are the one monetizing—particularly producers who are more interested in the money than the art (not all are like this, I should add). The clearest solution, again, seems to be for the artist/playwright to be tied to the production—to become, like in television, a “Showrunner.”
The Showrunner—people like David Chase of The Sopranos and Matthew Weiner of Mad Men—creates, writes, and produces; manages and markets. The Showrunner is more than just a writer. “The result is a paradigmatically neoliberal vision of the writer and his labor,” writes Michael Szalay in his article “The Writer as Producer; or, The Hip Figure After HBO,” published by Duke University Press this year.
This requires the artist to become a hybrid. Going back to the Icarus myth—allow the sun to give us energy, rather than drown us. This doesn’t mean we must always produce our own work. We can allow traditional models to merge with newer models, this too can be hybrid in nature. Technology now gives us all access to the means of production. The writer can now learn Photoshop. The creative can now market on Facebook and Twitter (and it works). The audience is used to receiving information from multiple sources. Devised Theater trends prove that audiences are open to theater reflecting the world they live in—after all Devised Theater is a form of hybridity, a place where all the artists are Showrunners in the sense that they take on many roles. Now it is time to apply this idea to the way we make money in the theater. It is our job, as theater professionals not to fall behind—not to kill art, or allow it to kill us. It is, in fact, our job to keep it alive, to keep it thriving in a world full of hybrids. It is our job to save people’s lives and to do this, we need to fully understand what it means to be alive, making and receiving art in twenty-first century America.
Vanessa Garcia is a multi-media writer and artist working from Miami and Los Angeles. She’s the founding artistic Director of The Krane, a theater/arts company. She’s currently working on her PhD from the University of California Irvine in Creative Nonfiction, and is a contributing writer to numerous publications from The Miami Herald to The Art Basel Magazine, among other journals, newspapers, and magazines. She’s also currently shopping her novel, White Light, and working on a two new plays called The Cuban Spring and The Underground.
I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous to see a show before, but I actually was anxious to see my first show at The Fountain Theatre. More than anything I wanted to love Cyrano. I wanted to tell people that the theatre I was interning at had this amazing show and that everyone just had to see it. And after watching last night’s performance, I can confidently do exactly that.
Though I had done a little research on the show itself, I really was not sure what to expect. And while I had peeked into the theatre before, being there just before a show was a completely different experience. People were speaking English and signing in American Sign Language, and laughing, excited to be there. The theatre filled up fast, and everyone seemed eager for the show to start.
When it did, I was delighted by how intimate it felt. While this should have been no surprise to me, since it is an 80-seat theatre, there was something about the way the stage was set and my proximity to it that made me feel like I was really a part of it all.
Troy Kotsur and Paul Raci are brothers in “Cyrano”
As the play started, I immediately wondered how I would feel about seeing a signed/spoken adaptation. Would it be distracting? Make the show difficult to understand? Well, I shouldn’t have worried. The second Troy Kotsur, the actor playing Cyrano, came on stage everything else seemed to melt away. I soon became engrossed in the story of Cyrano, a deaf man falling in love with a hearing woman. The unorthodox love story trumped everything else. The way this show was put together just worked so well. Sometimes Troy would be signing, and Paul Raci, who played his brother Chris, would be interpreting. Other times, both characters on stage where signing and there were two interpreters on the sidelines translating. I thought this would be distracting, but it wasn’t. Their voices came out as the voices of Chris and Cyrano to the point where I almost forgot they were there. It all just seemed to fit.
Troy Kotsure and Erinn Anova
More than that, it seemed like everyone who saw the play was enjoying it immensely but in different ways. For instance, sometimes the actress playing Roxy (Erinn Anova) would laugh, this really charming laugh, and the hearing audience laughed too. Other times the actor playing Cyrano would sign something which the hearing audience might miss, but really struck a chord with the deaf viewers. And then there were those moments in the play, (which I won’t give away for those yet to see it), that are so completely universal, we all laughed together. It was an unforgettable experience.
I encourage anyone who has yet to see Cyrano to attend as soon as possible. It is a very rare and wonderful experience to see a play with such a well-written story be carried out with both a remarkable cast and well-placed technology weaved throughout. Not only does it fit into our modern world perfectly, acknowledging the growing role of social media, but it gives a voice to a world most viewers don’t typically see, a world they should come experience immediately!
Jessica Broutt is our summer intern at the Fountain Theatre from UC San Diego.
Review: A refreshing take on ‘Cyrano’ at Fountain Theatre
Troy Kotsur and Erinn Anova (photo by Ed Krieger)
by Philip Brandes
Texting and email may have replaced quill and ink in “Cyrano” — Stephen Sachs’ contemporary re-envisioning of Edmond Rostand‘s classic drama — but the problematic nature of communication remains a constant. If anything, the theme gains new dimension and impact through the collision of hearing, deaf and online cultures in this inspired and inspiring adaptation’s debut co-production from the Fountain Theatre and Deaf West Theatre companies.
Performed simultaneously in spoken dialogue and American Sign Language by a mixed ensemble of hearing and deaf actors, Sachs’ moving adaptation transposes Rostand’s archetypal heroic outsider into a gifted coffeehouse poet whose inferiority complex is rooted in his deafness rather than his perfectly normal nose. Troy Kotsur excels as this modern Cyrano, who fears that talking with his hands poses an unbridgeable gulf between himself and Roxy (Erinn Anova) the hearing-only poetry fan he worships from afar. Learning that his beloved is in turn infatuated with his rock musician brother, Chris (Paul Raci), who has always been his “voice” in the hearing world, Cyrano returns the favor by composing romantic texts and emails to Roxy on Chris’ behalf (smartly rendered in videography by Jeffrey Elias Teeter).
Sachs’ adaptation skillfully maps Rostand’s principals to their updated versions. Torn between pride and loneliness, Kotsur’s Cyrano resists identifying with either the hearing or deaf communities — or the modern world, for that matter — and evokes the heartbreaking weight of the realization that self-sacrificing vicarious passion is not all it’s cracked up to be. Raci is by turns hilarious and poignant as clueless loser Chris, and Anova invests Roxy with the sensitivity and sense of isolation she unknowingly shares with Cyrano.
The few arguable limitations here lie in adhering a bit too faithfully to some creakier aspects of Rostand’s original (particularly the opening brawling sequence), but the performances quickly catch fire in Simon Levy’s well-paced and precisely focused staging. Besides offering a refreshing take on a classic, the signed/spoken presentation offers hearing folks the opportunity to appreciate sign language’s unique emotional expressiveness.
Fountain Theatre’s Stephen Sachs (co-artistic director) and Simon Levy (producing director) are zeroing in on the premiere Saturday of the Fountain’s latest collaboration with Deaf West Theatre — a re-imagined, signed/spoken word adaptation of Cyrano de Bergerac, scripted by Sachs, helmed by Levy.
The Fountain has a long history with Deaf West, so Sachs and Levy are not exploring totally new territory. But they are quick to make clear that this production is not just a straightforward ASL translation of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 rhymed-verse chronicle of the 17th century duelist and poet with an oversized proboscis.
“First of all, Stephen has set this in modern times in LA, where people communicate through all sorts of electronic gadgets, on Facebook and Twitter,” explains Levy. “This production uses spoken word, ASL and e-language. This provides for myriad possibilities but also a whole lot of complications.”
“In the original, Cyrano’s barrier is his enormous nose and his perceived ugliness,” Sachs elaborates. “In this new version, it’s Cyrano’s deafness. He is a brilliant deaf poet, who signs magnificently. But he is not fully able to express his love for a hearing woman because she does not know sign language. So, while Rostand’s Cyrano was a man of his nose, this is a man of his hands.
“This is also the journey of a man who is at once proud of his deafness and of his hands, which is how he speaks; but he is also at war with himself, as any great tragic hero is, in terms of his pride. In this case, one of the major parts of his journey is to find a kind of peace with that, within and outside his deaf community. Like the original Cyrano, who stands alone, distant from his comrades in arms, our Cyrano stands alone within his deaf community and that gets him into trouble.”
“He also is at odds along the way with insensitive hearing people,” adds Levy.
“But at the end, he is able to make peace and find forgiveness within himself, his community and the outer world,” continues Sachs.
The histories of Fountain Theatre and Deaf West have been entwined for 21 years, when Sachs and co-artistic director Deborah Lawlor provided office space to Ed Waterstreet, an actor with National Theatre of the Deaf, who envisioned founding a theater company for deaf actors in LA, which became Deaf West. The Fountain was the site of Deaf West’s first productions The Gin Game (1991), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1991) and Shirley Valentine (1992).
In 1993, Deaf West moved to the first of its own facilities, on Heliotrope Drive (in what is now Sacred Fools Theater). But Sachs, who already had a history of conducting workshops with deaf actors for a number of years, continued his commitment by writing Sweet Nothing in My Ear (1997) for a Fountain production and Open Window (2005) for a Deaf West/Pasadena Playhouse collaboration at the playhouse. Both of these incorporated deaf culture and illuminated the deaf world.
Cyrano is a project that has been percolating in the years since Deaf West settled in its later NoHo home (which recently has been used primarily by Antaeus Company and is currently rented for the production of The Bridge Club).
Sachs recalls, “About nine years ago, Deaf West had the idea of doing a musical version of Cyrano. It was just after they had a huge success adapting the musical, Big River (2001-02). I remember reading about it at the time and thought it was a great idea.
Troy Kotsur and Paul Raci
“Then, just a couple of years ago, Ed called me, wanting me to write a new play for Deaf West. We kicked around some ideas and then I asked about his plans for Cyrano. Ed said it was an idea that never came to fruition. Well, I told him I would love to do that, but I wanted to turn it into a play and have it be about Cyrano’s hands, not his nose, making it about his deafness and language. And that’s how this project came about.”
Levy adds, “Part of the journey in mounting this production has been the marriage of these three languages. This is a new world we live in with e-language and how important that language is to both the hearing and the deaf communities. That has created some interesting dilemmas in the staging. There are a lot of things we haven’t anticipated that we discovered in process of doing it. For instance, how do you relate text messages among the characters to an audience? We had a lot of wonderful ideas that we had to figure out how to actualize, none of which we could anticipate until we got into them.”
At the center of the action is actor Troy Kotsur, whose performance history with Deaf West includes Big River, Pippin, A Streetcar Named Desire and Of Mice and Men. “Troy is a wonderfully gifted and inventive actor who is a joy to watch as he has been creating this role,” affirms Levy. “So much of the creation of the ASL translation is intense, hard work. Part of it is done in advance with script work and an ASL translator. But a majority of it is done in rehearsal with the actor improvising different ways to sign a certain line or phrase. When you have someone as skilled as Troy doing it, it is an amazing experience to watch. And a wonderful actor, Victor Warren, provides Cyrano’s voice when needed.”
Complementing Kotsur in principal roles are Erinn Anova as the much-adored Roxy and Paul Raci as Chris, the handsome signing/speaking brother of Cyrano, with whom Roxy is smitten. Levy admits to being very aware that communicating with this cast has been a whole new learning curve for him.
“This is my first time staging a spoken word/ASL signed production. I’ve produced several speaking/ASL shows here at the Fountain, but this is a new experience. I could not do this at all without the immense contribution of the ASL interpreters [Elizabeth Greene and Jennifer Snipstad Vega]. A director has to be able to communicate with his actors and make sure everything is communicated correctly to the audience. I just can’t get up there and start talking about ‘feeling it’ and the actors’ ‘motivation.’ This has been a whole new adventure in using all the elements of communication possible to make sure everyone and everything involved in this is moving in the same direction.”
Sachs just smiles benignly at his cohort. “You’re doing just fine.”
Our upcoming world premiere production of Cyrano is a funny and romantic tale about a brilliant deaf poet in love with a hearing woman. Set in a modern city, the play also dramatizes how technology helps and harms how we communicate. The influence of the internet — email, smart phones, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, texting, blogging — all play an important part in the story of Cyrano.
The new play asks some relevant questions about life and love in the Electronic Age:
Do all of our electronic devices make us feel more connected, or more alone?
Is it easier to text someone than have a real face-to-face conversation?
Is the “you” on your Facebook page or website or blog the real you? Are we our avatars?
What effect does all this technology have on our ability to have personal relationships? How does it influence our self esteem, how we see ourselves? How we perceive reality?
Described as “the Margaret Mead of digital cuture,” Turkle has now turned her attention to the world of social media and sociable robots. As she puts it, these are technologies that propose themselves “as the architect of our intimacies.” In her most recent book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, Turkle argues that the social media we encounter on a daily basis are confronting us with a moment of temptation. Drawn by the illusion of companionship without the demands of intimacy, we confuse postings and online sharing with authentic communication. We are drawn to sacrifice conversation for mere connection. Turkle suggests that just because we grew up with the Internet, we tend to see it as all grown up, but it is not: Digital technology is still in its infancy and there is ample time for us to reshape how we build it and use it.
Enjoy This Video, as Turkle Asks: Are We Connected, But Alone?
Cyrano April 28 – June 10 (323) 663-1525 More Info
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman."
Aside from its implicit critique of the notion of valuing a man’s life by the rung he occupies on the ladder of commerce, other elements in the play resonate freshly today. Among the most famous phrases, recurring in the dialogue almost like an incantation, is Willy’s fervid emphasis on the importance of being “well liked,” once again using a quantitative measure to establish a human being’s inherent value. His son Biff, Willy asserts, will inevitably rise in the world, despite the moral failings they both swat away like pesky gnats, because he is “well liked,” not merely “liked,” as is Charley’s studious son Bernard.
Thanks to the explosion in social media, being “well liked” has become practically a profession in itself. Adults as well as teenagers keep assiduous count of their Facebook friends and Twitter followers, and surely are inwardly if not outwardly measuring their worth by the rise or fall of the number. People are turning themselves into products, both for profit and for pleasure, and the inevitable temptation is to equate the popularity of your brand with your fundamental self-worth.
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Andrew Garfield and Finn Wittrock in Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman."
Many of us are willingly becoming versions of Willy Loman, forever on the road — that is, online — selling ourselves and advertising our lifestyles: describing the meal we just consumed at a restaurant (with uploaded photograph of course) or the trip we’re planning to take. A social-media gadfly (or, say, me) might suggest that there are vestiges of Willy’s tormenting self-doubt in the need to advertise every moment of our life so assiduously, as if constant Facebook updates could vanquish the inner voice whispering in Willy’s ear that his life is built on sand.
The play moves us on any number of levels, perhaps most fundamentally as a mid-century American version of that classic dramatic archetype dating back to the Greeks: the family in mortal conflict with itself. The Loman family’s conspiracy to support Willy in his delusions — at least until Biff decides he has to destroy his father’s illusions to save himself — is drawn from true filial and marital love, and it is in observing how little this love can do to save Willy that the play is most devastating. He is too consumed by the belief that his failure to succeed, and to inculcate success in his sons, has somehow disqualified him for full membership in the human race.
Despite Willy’s delusions and moral evasions, Miller always insisted on the nobility in his struggle. “The play is really about mortality and leaving something behind,” he told The Times during an interview on the occasion of the Chinese production. “Willy Loman is trying to write his name on a cake of ice on a hot July day.” His contradictions and his failings are all human and all common, which is why the hallucinatory last day of his life will always retain the power to command not just our pity but our respect too.