There’s a reason to book a trip to New York City and that’s for the all-Black cast of the West End revival of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” I want to thank the creative team for inviting us to attend the private party to celebrate the stars of the revival, Wendell Pierce and Sharon D. Clarke (Tony-nominated, “Caroline or Change”). Pierce will step back into the shoes of character, Willy Loman, while Clarke returns to play his wife, Linda Loman.
A treasured actress across the pond, Clarke won the Olivier Award for Best Actress for the London production of “Death of a Salesman,” and Pierce received a Best Actor nomination. Directed by Miranda Cromwell, who co-directed the London staging with Marianne Elliott, the Broadway production will also star André De Shields (“Hadestown” ) as Willy’s brother, Ben, and Khris Davis (Sweat) as Biff Loman.
Pierce used to live uptown, Harlem in a neighborhood packed with people that looked and sounded like us, during a period in New York’s history where bullets flew and people ducked. Bringing this classic play to the stage with an all-Black cast has a very special meaning to the veteran actor and producer. Pierce also shared his deep respect for all of the African American newspapers calling our reporting “important” and “necessary.”
But, first a history lesson – “Death of a Salesman” is a play in two acts and a requiem and was written by Arthur Miller in 1948 and produced in 1949. For his work, Miller won a Pulitzer Prize and in describing this play, he called it “the tragedy of a man who gave his life, or sold it” in pursuit of the American dream. On Broadway in February 1949, it ran for 742 performances introducing the world to the traveling salesman, Willy Loman, who is so defeated and utterly disappointed with his life that he appears to be sliding into senility, happily.
There are many themes that still ring true today such as the aforementioned question on the quality of the ‘American dream’ and examining the building blocks of truth and infidelity. And it’s inescapable not to look closely at what a capitalistic society’s impact on a life, his life, can be. Today, “Death of A Salesman” is considered, by some critics, to be one of the greatest plays of the 20th century.
Those are five very powerful words (in pursuit of the American Dream) that means something very different for people of African descent. Never mind that this stolen land, was built on the backs and the flowing blood of African, enslaved people, in a country that considered us profitable property. So, forgive me when I pause to (laugh) and review those aforementioned five words: The. Pursuit. Of. The. American. Dream.
“It’s an honor to be working with you, Sharon [D. Clarke] and I want to thank you for taking care of me, on and off the stage,” said Wendell Pierce. “I didn’t expect to feel like this emotional but at this place, and at this time, this is exactly where I need to be. It’s an honor to be sharing the stage [again] with Sharon D. Clark.”
Later, Ms. Clark weighed in, sharing that she often wondered what kept Linda in the marriage with Willy. “I always wondered what was it about the relationship that hung them together, were they afraid?” shared Sharon D. Clarke. “What you see in our Linda and Willy’s relationship is that these two people love each other.”
“Death of a Salesman” opens on Broadway in the fall with previews starting September 19 at the Hudson Theatre.
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