May 15, 2012

On the Nichols Over There

Photo by Brigitte Lacombe

Though my good friend Jim Martin is no longer the culture editor there, I'm still contributing the occasional theater review to the Jesuit weekly America (and since you're asking, no, I'm not Catholic, but I owe a lot to the S.J.).

This week they've got my review of Broadway's best revival, whose greatness didn't strike immediately but crept up on me:
It is not his age that makes the new Hoffman a bold choice for the role but his introverted, almost pigeon-toed awkwardness, his crabbed averageness. This is Willy Loman not as a fallen, tragic hero but as a sad schlub aching from worn out arch supports—the kind of human wreck people avoid because he makes them feel a sickly pity, something close to disgust, as he natters compulsively about his imaginary influence and unseen triumphs. It may be that we flee desperate people because we fear their desperation might rub off on us somehow. Hoffman’s Willy is a man who cannot shake desperation’s taint.

The actors playing his immediate family also skew young: raw, wiry Andrew Garfield as the beloved but wayward first-born, Biff; the scrubbed-cheek Finn Wittrock as the womanizing Happy; Linda Emond as the resilient, no-fuss matron, Linda. If these younger-than-usual Lomans are at first hard to believe as a family grinding down into its desolate twilight years, the actors’ youth is a huge boon in the play’s frequent flashbacks to a more idyllic time; these reveries have a palpable, “what might have been” glow. This in turn makes the lurch back to the play’s grim present that much more wrenching, and Willy’s capitulation to what feels like a premature obsolescence that much more awful.
RTWT here.

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