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This show has been Jeff Recommended
Powerhouse performances
A fine cast
Highly Recommended
overwhelming experience
the play works such magic
Excellent performances from top to bottom
Brian Parry...the finest work I’ve seen on a Chicago stage this season


Highly Recommended
Powerhouse Performances

Reviewed by Amy Munice
Live the life of a salesman

You too may have seen Arthur Miller’s classic play Death of a Salesman many times. You too may leave the Redtwist’s ribbon of a performance space trying to tame the vortex of emotions unleashed in the last few hours, and think— this was the first time though, that you actually lived it.

From the moment Brian Parry as Willy Loman comes onstage to begin living out the great story of the salesman’s unraveling, we latch. Parry’s Loman is at once someone we want to distance ourselves from—like his son Biff (played by Matt Edmonds), protect—like his steadfast wife Linda (played by Jan Ellen Graves), or perhaps distract in hopes of easing his roiling within—like his ever trying to please him son Happy (played by Benjamin Kirberger), or his neighbor and friend Charley (played by Adam Bitterman).

Death of a Salesman script seen anew

While other productions of this play seem to emphasize more the difficulties of a salesman past his prime, Parry’s performance keeps Loman’s flaming flaws the centerstage focus.

Not that we don’t sympathize with Willy even when he so disappoints us. Miller’s script demands that we do and the actors give every line that speaks to Willy’s humanity the gravitas that is their due. We hear it first so clearly from Graves’ as Linda reminding her sons that their father is human. And, then later we hear it with the force of kettle drums when Willy’s friend and neighbor Charley, gives his graveside summation of the life, and death, of a salesman. This is a soliloquy delivered so naturally by Bitterman that you walk away wondering if he is acting as this New Yorker wise man or if he is him.

Feel the Diss

When Bitterman delivers these so memorable lines, you too may have your repressed memories of when someone summarily dismissed your person and humanity come to the fore. It’s as if we, the audience, go through a short course on method acting in our seats.

Improbable Redtwist Theatre Space

Steve Scott’s direction has turned the improbable Redtwist performance space into an asset. There are many times when you will be closer to the actor delivering his or her lines than the character with whom he or she is speaking. (Tip: For those of us with bad necks, a few pre-performance yoga stretches might be in order.)

These are powerhouse performances, with the possible exception of the re-enactments of childhood scenes where the decision to simplify many of the characters into more cartoon-like stereotypes somewhat puzzles. On the other hand, this perhaps helps us to cherish their nuanced performances by these actors in their adult character roles—the two sons portrayed by Matt Edmonds and Benjamin Kirbirger and Devon J. Nimerfroh as Charley’s son Bernard.

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Highly Recommended, Reviewed by Albert Williams

A fine cast under Steve Scott’s direction for Redtwist delivers a moving, emotionally intimate rendition of Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer-winning 1949 masterpiece—the story of a Brooklyn family whose belief in an illusory American dream (in which being “well liked” is the key to happiness in “the greatest country in the world”) has locked them into destructive patterns of denial and dishonesty. Scott’s bare-bones, alley-style staging places Miller’s tragedy in arm’s reach of the audience. The 13-person ensemble—including Brian Parry as failed traveling salesman Willy Loman, Jan Ellen Graves as his anxious wife, Linda, and Matt Edmonds as his alienated, disillusioned son Biff—respond with an unaffected honesty that places the playwright’s sometimes preachy critique of capitalism (a system that feeds people false values and discards them when they can’t measure up) in its necessary heartbreaking emotional context.

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Highly Recommended
The America That Never Was: A Review of Death of a Salesman at Redtwist Theatre

Reviewed by Irene Hsiao

The American Dream—the belief that what fulfills life is prosperity, what determines prosperity is work and that work glazed over with a little sheen of popular appeal guarantees respect—has been languishing the length of its existence. Perhaps never more so than among the so-called millennials, who are said to disdain puritan ideals of toil, reject capitalist faith in private property and understand and participate in the mechanics of popularity with greater frequency and fervor than any generation before them.

Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Death of a Salesman,” a play that encapsulated a cultural moment more than half a century ago, serves as a grim reminder that America is not and has never been great, except in its determination to be something other than what it is. Redtwist Theatre’s production, directed by Steve Scott, plays it straight and spare on a set designed by Elyse Balogh—minimal enough to have been scavenged straight from a Depression-era scrapyard—to poignant effect.

As the delusional salesman Willy Loman, whose mediocre career has brought him neither fame nor wealth, Brian Parry pinballs between arrogance, bombastic rage, fatherly pedantry and childish entitlement, all hovering menacingly above the abyss of his failure as a man and his desperation not to know it. Matt Edmonds is heartbreakingly earnest as his elder son, Biff, the former football star who never went to college and can’t hold down a job. Benjamin Kirberger plays the playboy younger son, Happy, the overgrown child as imperceptive of his father’s woes as his father was to his. Jan Ellen Graves gives strength and weight to Willy’s wife, Linda, who holds the family together with equal parts of blindness and insight.

To watch a man intent upon blustering his way through a life that never adds up to be what he says it is ought to remind us of the terror marauding through our country. Instead, it reveals the way the anger of young men becomes the frustration of old ones. “Let’s hold onto the facts tonight, Pop,” Biff begs Willy. “We’re not going to get anywhere bulling around.” But he won’t and it’s fatal.

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buzz http://www.buzznews.net/theatre/item/4010-review-death-of-a-salesman-at-redtwist-theatre.html

Highly Recommended
Reviewed by John Accrocco

"Attention must be paid," Arthur Miller pleads in his Pulitzer Prize winning play "Death of a Salesman." What is now required reading, "Death of a Salesman" asks its audience to consider the worth of one pathetic old man. The play debuted in 1949, at a time when America was coming out of a war and questioning the value of personal fulfillment. For that theme alone this play will always be relevant.
The intimate space at Redtwist Theatre makes for an overwhelming experience. In many of the scenes there's an almost voyeuristic feel. As if you're in someone's living room listening to something you shouldn't. Director Steve Scott uses this atmospheric effect to create a palpable intensity. After the lights go out on the final scene, an audience gasped in unison.
Brian Parry delivers a powerhouse performance as Willy Loman. Both tough and weak at the same time. His Loman is still feisty, making the ending all the more tragic. Jan Ellen Graves' Linda Loman is played calm and collected and rarely sentimental, but lively when the moment is right. Matt Edmonds gives a standout performance as Biff. There are such revelations in Edmonds' interpretation.
Like Tennessee Williams and Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller knew America. He knew the sad and melancholic ways average people live. "Death of a Salesman" should make us uncomfortable. We should bristle at the idea of one average man getting used up and thrown away. It's a warning that if you don't take control of your own destiny, society will toss you aside. Willy Loman skirts through life on quick fixes and delusions. In a way, all of us are Willy Loman and Miller asks us to look beyond the superficial. As "On the Road" had also inspired a younger generation to live life differently than their parents, so does "Death of a Salesman." The moral here is that nobody wants to end up as Willy Loman.

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Review: In 'Death of a Salesman,' Arthur Miller's words take on a new edge. by Nina Metz, Chicago Tribune

Early in "Death of a Salesman," it is late at night and an exhausted Willy Loman arrives home having not made it to even one of his sales calls that day. The end is nigh for Willy, that's clear from the moment we see him shuffle in. Upstairs are his two sons, Biff and Happy, smoking cigarettes together in the darkness of their shared childhood home, contemplating their lives. They are young men but not that young. Biff is 34, Happy, 32 — old enough to have shaken off any residual arrested development that might have followed them out of their teens.

But here they sit, in Biff's old bedroom, a couple of 30-something, middle-class straight white guys who have the privilege to look around and scoff at a world they think hasn't given them enough opportunities — or rather, the right sort of opportunities, fulfilling opportunities. (It makes you think this production might not be a bad pairing with "Straight White Men" by Young Jean Lee, currently in a run at Steppenwolf.)

It's not that Biff and Happy aren't allowed a measure of discontent in the privacy of this moment. But as men, they are their own worst enemies. And only Biff ultimately comes to see this.

In this 1949 drama (in a revival at Redtwist), Arthur Miller managed to evoke both a compassion and a piercing judgmental stare for these men, Willy included (played here by Brian Parry), and it might be one of the most important reasons the play works such magic.

The lies in the Loman house — the delusions and exaggerations — are many. Linda (Jan Ellen Graves), the all-seeing matriarch, is the key enabler; but make no mistake, she has come to understand all too clearly. She just had the bad luck of hitching herself to the wrong guy (not that she sees it that way; Linda has her own delusions as well). She is surrounded by inward-looking men who are never, ever satisfied, searching for external validation and quick to lash out when confronted with the reality of their mediocrity.

It's a funny thing, hearing the way some of Miller's dialogue is phrased. Willy has a way of talking, a cadence — there's no missing it, a certain boastful, outer-borough New York distinctiveness to it that sounds very familiar to the news cycle these days, and I wasn't expecting it: "I got important contacts!" Willy says to his frenemy and next door neighbor Charley. (Charley with a priceless, sarcastic response: "Glad to hear it, Willy.") "I'll go to Hartford, I'm very well-liked in Hartford!" Or of his son, Biff: "He's got loads of personality, loads of it!"

The Loman men are con artists. Their primary mark? Themselves. Under the direction of Steve Scott, Matt Edmonds' floundering Biff and Zach De Nardi's phony-baloney Happy really do look and feel like restless brothers raised together in that home. (De Nardi is so good, you would never know he was filling in for Benjamin Kirberger, who has been having some health issues but is hoping to return to the production.)
Director Scott's production is really about the performances — small things, like the way Parry's Willy, on his way to work, distractedly says, "Eh, goodbye, I'm late" — and Scott also has a couple of aces up his sleeve in the smaller roles of Charley (played by Adam Bitterman) and Charley's son, Bernard, the bookworm-turned-hotshot lawyer (played by Devon J. Nimerfroh). The way Nimerfroh finesses that late pivotal scene with Willy, when he delicately tries to get to the bottom of the Loman family neurosis — it's just terrific, a wonderful bit of hesitancy and confidence, all of it coming through in his body language.

But let's talk about Bitterman, because he is giving such a delicious, scene-stealing performance, with a perfect roughshod New York accent, that I wanted to follow him off stage and watch whatever play Charley should have been starring in. When Willy finds out Bernard is arguing a case before the Supreme Court, he says to Charley, somewhat surprised: "He didn't mention!" Charley's beautiful throwaway reply: "He didn't hafta."

And therein lies the difference. A Loman would have been bragging about it all day.

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‘Death of a Salesman’ at Redtwist: Bringing resonant life to a fractured soul on the brink

Review: “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller, at Redtwist Theatre, extended through March 26.
By Lawrence B. Johnson

Brian Parry’s heartbreaking performance as Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” at Redtwist Theatre is the finest work I’ve seen on a Chicago stage this season. A virtually tactile experience in a tiny, in-your-face venue, this is gigantic acting on the most intimate scale.

Even better for theater buffs, the show’s run has been extended through March 26. Redtwist’s “Death of a Salesman” should go straight to the top of any must-see list, and not only for Parry’s indelible portrait of a good man who drowns in the churn of his illusions and lost dreams.

Directed by Steve Scott with an unfailing ear for language, dramatic contour and interplay, the production boasts a smart and credible supporting cast of vivid characters. But as in Miller’s “A View from the Bridge,” however brilliant the encircling group, it is the desperate figure at the center to which the eye constantly returns and upon which the whole crushing tragedy hangs.

Miller introduces us to Willy in mid-spiral. He’s 60 years old, a traveling salesman who once blazed trails for his old boss, opened up new territories, did great things. That’s all in the past. The old magic just doesn’t work any more. Willy has trouble bringing home enough money to meet payments on the appliances and still make the mortgage on a house that’s almost paid off.

His wife Linda (Jan Ellen Graves in a quietly sympathetic turn) props up his splintering ego. But his grown sons, Hap and Biff – well, mostly they remind him of his failure as a father, as a husband, as a man. Somewhere in his pursuit of the American dream, Willy got sidetracked and became the poster boy for life as a lie.

Parry’s realization of Willy is profoundly human and deeply sad. The man wants so much to be worth something, but believes in his heart that he has lost all value – indeed comes to the conclusion that he might be worth more dead than alive. In his distraction, and in guilt over transgressions long past but irredeemable, he harangues at persons only he can see. He pleads to the past, admonishes ghosts, relives the small victories that once buoyed his heart.

It is a singular thing to be so close to a skilled actor that you can gaze through his eyes into the soul of his character, see the white in the knuckles that clench his weathered hat, catch the small falter in his step – hear the muted whimper in a voice that has lost its clarion ring. These are the withering particulars of Parry’s Willy, the almost unbearable subtleties of an actor who can stand 18 inches from you and render wholly credible the consuming misery of a fellow creature.

“Death of a Salesman” plays out largely through set pieces, tightly spun scenes that either recall Willy’s missteps or frame his present despair. These episodes meld one into another to move the play forward, a device that director Scott manages with equal parts of elegance and fluency. And each turning page raises the dramatic tension thanks to coherent, carefully calibrated portrayals around Willy.

Elder son Biff (Matt Edmonds), an erstwhile high school football star once headed for great things, has distanced himself from the family, a rolling stone with neither plan nor ambition. Edmonds cuts an edgy angry young man who knows something about his father that has permanently stained their relationship.

Kid brother Hap (played with a poignant brand of exuberance by Benjamin Kirberger) has grown up in Biff’s shadow, the other son, still scarcely mentioned by his mother, unnoticed by his father. Small wonder Hap prides himself on his endless conquests of women.

The Loman household is a dysfunctional marvel, and its convulsions are underscored by the hard work, competence and success of the father and son next door – Willy’s pal Charley (Adam Bitterman), a flourishing businessman, and his brilliant son Bernard (Devon J. Nimerfroh), who tries in vain to tutor the football hero Biff.

Two of the play’s most resonant scenes, peak moments of this production, bring Willy face to face with Charley and the grown Bernard in quite different circumstances. Willy has never had a problem tapping Charley for fifty bucks to see him through, but in this illuminating scene, which Bitterman plays with no-nonsense directness and palpable compassion, Charley offers road-weary Willy a job – which he flatly rejects. The exchange between Bitterman and Parry is a piece of work, the former urging his friend to accept this genuine offer and the latter turning him down in absolute terms but with no explanation. It is one form of the pride that goeth before a fall.

In the second instance, Bernard, now graduated from college and about to try a case before the Supreme Court, asks Willy why Biff did not take the summer make-up course in math that would have enabled him to graduate and accept an athletic scholarship to a big-time college. Willy knows why. It’s part of an awful secret. But of course, he bobs and weaves and dissembles his way out the door. In Parry’s pathetic dance, you could feel the pain pushed to the surface by long years of self-loathing.

And somewhere atop the hierarchy of Parry’s flights of sorrow came this: Punching himself up, Willy goes to see his current boss, son of the old one, to insist that all his years on the road should now be rewarded with a local assignment, for which Willy even suggests a salary. But the younger man (Michael Sherwin) only wants to show off his new tape-recording machine and the preserved babbling of his precious child and flummoxed wife. In desperation, Willy drops his price, then again, to no avail. It does not end well.

Willy sees the writing on the wall – and in it a clear plan. Parry’s radiant vision of the good this fractured man still might do is a consummation deeply to be savored.

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Following the wrong dream in ‘Death of a Salesman’
Reviewed byGrant Spathis, Staff Writer

For a play as well known as “Death of a Salesman,”  written by Arthur Miller and directed by Steve Scott, to break new ground is a difficult task. Fortunately, at the Redtwist Theatre in Edgewater, this was no problem.

Driven by the strikingly powerful performance of Brian Parry as Willy Loman, the devastation of Miller’s story is pounded home. Given the limitations of the stage space at the Redtwist, with its narrow room featuring chairs on both sides of the stage, the physicality of a performance is crucial. Both Parry and Matt Edmonds, as Biff Loman, Willy’s eldest son, brought viewers into the visceral conflict between the two characters.

The unique stage at the Redtwist allows play-goers to step right into a story, and with a story as dynamic as that of Willy Loman and his family, this presents the perfect opportunity to do so.

Following a failed businessman as he struggles to find meaning in his and his son’s life is a story that demands the audience feel each transgression and emotion being etched out. The wonderfully understated performance of Jan Ellen Graves as Linda, Willy’s long suffering wife, pulled the gravity of the stage toward her with each line of dialogue. The audience can sense the betrayal, fear and disillusion as Linda sees her entire world collapsing in front of her.

As a whole, Redtwist’s staging of “Death of a Salesman” was an intimate affair. However, that does not mean the production of the show was anything less than stellar. Sound Designer Karli Blalock used the auditory hallucinations of Willy Loman to great effect, bouncing the voices in his head off the walls and making the space feel as though it was closing in on the stage. While minimal, it allowed the audience to see into the mind of Willy, as did the lighting. In scenes featuring Willy delving into his past while talking with his long-lost brother Ben, played by Ted Hoerhl, the lighting became almost surreal, focusing on Ben while leaving Willy somewhat obscured, much like the haze of Willy’s mind as he slowly unraveled.

While the story does not have a traditional villain, Willy’s boss Howard is the closest thing to it. Played with merciless smarm by Michael Sherwin, the one scene he is featured in encapsulated the brutal reality of an old man losing his place in his industry. Juxtaposed by the futuristic toys that Howard is enamored with, Willy seems even more anachronistic. He struggles with a toy for a society that has left him behind, unable to accept the reality of his life. In much the same way that Sherwin takes advantage of his single scene to make an impression, Adam Bitterman as Charley, Willy’s neighbor and verbal sparring partner, steals every scene he is in. His worn in, pitch perfect Brooklyn accent and dry delivery provide the plays few moments of respite from the ever mounting pressure cooker of Arthur Miller’s story.

Staging a play as classic as “Death of a Salesman” is an inherently difficult task, but Steve Scott and the Redtwist Theatre are up to the task.

Led by the dynamic performance of Parry as the titular salesman, this staging is unequivocally a success. Excellent performances from top to bottom, as well as the excellent lighting and sound design work to create a truly breathtaking performance.

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