Death of a Salesman

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Phillip Seymour Hoffman has recently climbed up onto the Ethel Barrymore stage on Broadway to revive this Arthur Miller classic.

Let me reiterate. Phillip Seymour Hoffman of “Scent of a Woman”, “Flawless”, “The Savages” etc. etc. is ON STAGE NOW in a legendary New York based play by the man Miller. Needless to say I was booked well in advance. No care or thought to cost.

Eager to make the most of my experience I speedily ordered a used Penguin paperback on Amazon and kept my fingers crossed that it would arrive in good time. The performance is Thursday night. The book arrives Tuesday evening. The race is on. Luckily I have an uncomfortably early appointment with the orthodontist on Wednesday, so slim paperback in hand, I begin my commute to the Upper East Side clinic. By lunchtime, gripped by the anguish of Willy Loman and his family’s disappointments I am on the final page. The clue is in the name and yet my heart is wrenched out of my chest as I imagine the headlights come on and the car revving up as Willy drives away to his demise.

In my mind I already know Biff, Willy’s eldest. A failed football player who doesn’t get into college after flunking math (a subject in the singular here), Biff has drifted around the country since he graduated high school, trying to “find himself”. He works on farms, with horses. He is strong. Tanned. Masculine. Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network” and “Never Let Me Go”) takes up the role here. Ermm he is not the Biff I had in mind and I am dubious. His physique is too slight. He is faded, true, but he doesn’t seem commanding, magnificent enough for the part. But the verdict?

Completely nailed it. By Act Two, when he begins to really interact with his father and we see their struggle with guilt, love, respect and the loss of it, I am mesmerised and torn up inside watching them fight for those good old days of comradeship. His debut on Broadway? I say “roaring success.”

Biff’s younger brother, Happy (Hap), is also an attractive athletic specimen (and he is actually just that. Mmm rippling biceps). His presence on stage is wonderful. Do I sense a crush coming on? Probably yes. The rest of the cast was faultless too. But I probably shouldn’t detail them one by one. Could get boring. But well done Mr Casting Director. The 1940s truly came alive on stage. Linda Loman generates as many sniffles from the audience as the boys and their father. Her trembling hands as she battles to bring father and sons back together, back to love, is powerful. And these people really know how to cry. Can we just take a timeout to comment on the crying? Genuine agonising weeping was the theme of the evening and whoever was coaching that should get a medal. If there are such medals for such feats.

Now. I am sure you are all wondering. No mention of Phillip Seymour Hoffman? How strange. Was she disappointed? Was she overwhelmed and distracted by the true-to-Miller set design bringing the written word to vivid life? Or was she simply smitten with the bicep built Hap and his chiselled jawline?

Nope. I was saving the best ’til last. Phillip Seymour Hoffman (PSH for convenience), you have successfully infiltrated the Ashbridge Family core. Many have tried and failed but you, among a few select others, get us all riled with admiration. For years we have watched and rewatched “Scent of a Woman” (not least for the “Hoo haaa” of Al Pacino). We have snuggled up with M&S biscuits and Cadbury’s Buttons and praised you on screen. Sister Jo even queued for over 5 hours at the Toronto Film Festival to hear your gruff, intoxicating tone discussing your craft (disregarding the looks of bewilderment from her peers no doubt).

Like Biff we would love you no matter what. Isn’t it amazing how film and theatre can do that to a person? Can make you buzz from top to toe and ache with inspiration. PSH, the front left stalls gasped as you tore down that anemic Bernard with your ferocity and I smiled to myself. Didn’t you know he had it in him? We did.

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