Masquers kill it with “Death of a Salesman”

Courtesy of John Lane The Red Masquers’ production of “Death of a Salesman” features “Pittsburgh Dad” star Curt Wootton.

By Zachary Landau | the Duquesne Duke

Courtesy of John Lane The Red Masquers’ production of “Death of a Salesman” features “Pittsburgh Dad” star Curt Wootton.
Courtesy of John Lane
The Red Masquers’ production of “Death of a Salesman” features “Pittsburgh Dad” star Curt Wootton.

At the cornerstone of every American English education are the “Great American [insert your medium of choice here].” Having to endure these classics reveals that, somehow, each one of them concerns the flaws in the American Dream, how it’s either an unachievable goal or how it’s skewed in favor of a privileged class. Rather trite theming, but each title attempts, and often fails, to bring its own perspective to the discussion.

I was truly relieved watching “Death of a Salesman,” then, as it felt very different from other American greats. The Red Masquers have truly hit a high point with this show, and it is most certainly worth seeing if only to watch these talented performers in a new and exciting space.

To start, the technical details: loved them. The set was beautifully designed, and every inch of it was put to good use. The lighting really brought it to life, with the night scenes becoming particularly pleasing to watch when the tiles and chrome are illuminated in a striking blue light. Also particularly exciting was the great use of sound. Speakers are set up around the theater, adding to the depth already felt by the stage stretching into the audience. It was truly exhilarating to see the actors walking right in front of the audience and having laughter come out of one speaker and voice recordings coming out of another. There were certain scenes where the chaos on-stage was incredibly visceral as an audience member to see, and the close proximity of the action all really sold it.

Special mention goes to the actors, of course, for their fantastic performances. Mark Yochum was a convincing Willy Loman and was particularly effective at delivering the anxiety and even anger felt by his character. Nancy Bach was also fantastic as Linda, so were Curt Wootton and Nathaniel Yost as Biff and Happy, respectively. If I were to level any criticism with the cast, it would be that they had a very slow start working into their roles. There was a noticeable lack of nuance felt in their voices for a good 15 minutes, but that eventually fell away to what anyone would expect from such seasoned actors.

The writing, on the other hand, left me a little less enthralled. While it’s clear that “Salesman” is about critiquing the American Dream, what is less clear is from what angle it is critiquing it on. Allusions to the hyper-masculinity of earning your own wages to obsessions over material gains to the value of individual labor all clash for attention. While admittedly not the Red Masquers’ fault, I feel like a little more curation of the content would have been appreciated. If certain themes were downplayed to allow one to dominate the play, the production would have felt much more cohesive. Fortunately, the performance ends before it completely collapses under the weight of the bloated writing, but it is noticeable how the actors seem to be pushing the action a bit more towards the final 20 to 30 minutes.

The fact that I was riveted to my seat, however, is a testament to the Red Masquers’ production that it didn’t feel over-burdened. There was never a moment of boredom, and even though the ending is telegraphed in the title of the play, it was easy to become invested and see it through to the end. I even want to see it again, and if that isn’t a good enough recommendation, then I don’t know what is.