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Earning commission

Grant and Aleman shine in Death of a Salesman

Willy and Linda’s relationship forms the heart of Death of a Salesman. Photo credit: Facebook

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For two days, after which I was fired, I was a door-to-door salesman for a company that sold home security systems. It remains the worst job I've ever done. From house to house, I peddled fear - that someone would inevitably break into these nice homes and abuse the occupants within. This is a job that left me with a bad taste in my mouth, even without the influence of my superiors, who seemed to take joy in intimidating timid housewives to make them agree to buy the product.

After just two days, I was fired for not "producing." Selling things, as it turns out, is not for everybody. It takes a flexibility of morality in order to truly be effective.

Death of a Salesman, that classic American play, is rooted in the idea that selling things for a living is not only difficult, but can fundamentally shred the mind of a man who's bet his life on being a winner. Willy Loman wants nothing but to provide for his family and to be perceived as a well-liked man. Loman has spent the last 30 years of his life on the road - his only driving force being the notion that if a man works hard enough, and talks well enough, he can bring home a commission big enough to provide his wife and family the opportunity to leave the vulgar city.

Lakewood Playhouse has put on a production of Death of a Salesman - their first time ever staging this iconic play - and they pull it off with remarkable aplomb. I admit that I've never seen any production of this play, but I found myself incredibly moved. Tears (a sign of my weakness) rolled down my face during several scenes.

Removing the brilliance of the play itself, I would owe a lot of my emotional reaction to the two heartbreaking, anchoring performances of Joseph Grant and Kathi Aleman as Willy and Linda Loman, respectively. These are two actors who give their all to a script that requires them to bear their souls in a very naked way. Grant summons the spirit of Jack Lemmon with his compassionate performance of a man who wants to project utter control in the face of everything falling apart. Aleman, meanwhile, sneakily steals the show, standing up for the sinking Willy Loman in wrenching scenes with her judgmental sons (Gabe Hacker and Tim Samland).

Willy Loman, as a character, is often seen as a symbol - a man who reflects the withering of the American dream. While this may be true, it is profoundly affecting to be acquainted with this character as just a man. Loman wants so desperately to give his family a good life, to be remembered, to have left a lasting imprint of everyone's lives, that he resorts to drastic measures. This production lends that weight. As Loman, Grant flusters and bluffs his way through a deep well of sadness.

Lakewood Playhouse has provided a very affecting production, and one worthy of praise.

DEATH OF A SALESMAN, Fridays & Saturdays 8 p.m., Sundays 2 p.m., through March 13, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood, 253.588.0042,

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