After months of preparation, “Death of a Salesman” opened Friday to a large and appreciative audience at Mohawk Trail Regional High School.

Minutes into this drama, actors put to rest any doubt that a high school ensemble can portray the deep psychological suffering of characters decades older than themselves.

Leon Tuthill, Maxx Crowl, Chelsie Field and Theodor Gabriel led a deep cast into Arthur Miller’s exploration of an ordinary man’s quest to be a hero in his work, his family and his own mind.

Individual performances were among the best in the three years that the Mohawk Arts and Education Council has worked to restore serious drama to the school.

Word-of-mouth recommendations from members of Friday’s audience should bring a strong turnout today.

This is truly a show that people who enjoy live theater should not miss. Tuthill’s depiction of Willy Loman, in particular, is commanding, transformative and haunting. As his sons, Biff and Happy, Crowl and Gabriel reveal both the deep affection and the drift of siblings called together in early middle age to witness and foment a crisis in their childhood home.

And as the long-suppressed spouse Linda Loman, Field, in a quietly brilliant performance, defines what it means to love the troubled men in her life and at the same time hold them to account.

The show’s co-directors are Neale Gay and Scott Whitney, who perform in several key scenes. The stage manager is Rachel Glod.

The performance continues with shows at noon and 7 p.m. today, May 14, 2011. Tickets are available at the door at the school on Route 112 in Buckland. They are $7 for seniors and Mohawk students and $10 for the general public.
– LARRY PARNASS

Images from a scene being run Sunday, May 8, are available by clicking into the box below and then selecting “slideshow” from the upper left on the Picasa page:

salesman scene may 8

By GABRIEL CHEVALIER

As The Woman dons a lacy black slip and stockings, Willy Loman is perched on the corner of the hotel bed. He pulls on a pair of worn shoes and straightens his aged three-piece suit, looking into the mirror. He watches as the woman steps into her shoes and comes over to straighten his tie.

As opening day Friday draws near, the actors are sinking deeper and deeper into their characters. At practices they are no longer Chelsie, Maxx, or Leon, but Linda, Biff and Willy. To further embody their characters, they don the clothing of the 50s.

Gone are the flip-flops, T-shirts and shorts. They have been replaced with suits, lavish dresses and 50s era hats. The costumes allow the cast to forget schoolwork and sports practices, focusing instead upon the important details of character portrayal.

As The Woman smoothes down Willy’s rumpled tie, he is reminded of his wife, Linda, and the many times she has helped him do just the same. He is drawn back in memory to a time when everything was less complex. In those times his guilt didn’t weigh him down like his heavy suitcase filled with products he couldn’t sell. He and Linda enjoyed a simpler, happier life.

In “Death of a Salesman,” costumes help tell this story. Linda wore her hair curled and her dresses unwrinkled, her apron unstained. His sons, Biff and Happy, ran through the yard without a care but for coming sports matches. They wore school sweaters and donned football pads, sneakers and nice pants. Years later, wearing tired suit pants and jackets, they are no longer so carefree.

Troubles with money and employment are a constant weight they are unable to leave behind. They meet with businessmen in well-fitted suits and crisp hats and are able only to glimpse the life of riches. Then it disappears behind an oak desk on which lays a gold fountain pen.

Early rehearsals were about blocking and lines, and back then, this cast’s actors had little to aid them in getting into character. Costumes, although they may seem less important than other aspects, help guide the actors in their performance. They now both look and feel the part as production day draws near.

The directors of “Death of a Salesman” — teachers Neale Gay and Scott Whitney and student Rachel Glod — speak today about the importance of this play, this playwright, the Mohawk drama program’s goals and how the cast is responding to this story.

Neale Gay, on the playwright: “Arthur Miller (photo at left) is, perhaps, the last American playwright who was a household name. Everyone knew who he was and looked to him to make sense of an America that was greatly changing after the tumult of the first half of the 20th century. Throughout the 40s, 50s, and 60s, what Miller did and said became news. That’s powerful for an artist.”

Scott Whitney on the choice of this play: “After a few years of producing mostly existential and absurdist works, we wanted to focus on a text that is both well-known and quintessentially American. In the arc of our development as a theater department, it feels a bit like this is our debut, given how challenging Miller’s opus is both technically and dramatically. Furthermore, we were encouraged to take on a play of this magnitude based on the strength of our talent pool this year.

We were encouraged to take on a play of this magnitude based on the strength of our talent pool this year.


“Since staging Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ at Mohawk three years ago, it’s been something of an understanding between Neale Gay and myself that we would never settle for a ‘high school play,’ ” Whitney said. “We want audiences to find emotional resonance in our actors’ performances and have a theatrical experience that goes beyond standard drama department fare. So far, so good and we’ve every reason to believe that this play is going to continue in that tradition.”

Rachel Glod on how the cast is responding to the play’s characters and issues: “In one way or another it seems that every member of the cast can relate to the story of Willy Loman. As they analyzes the words of Miller they become painfully aware of the characters’ dynamic personalities, their bare, raw human characteristics, their flaws.

“It takes an emotional toll, but ultimately the tragic story of not only Willy Loman, but also Linda, Biff, and Happy Loman, serves as an outlet for introspection into their own lives and what they want out of them. It is our hope to give this opportunity to the audience and for it to be as significant and palpable as it is for the cast.”

Neale Gay on the meaning of “Death of a Salesman” today: “This is a play with characters that are immediately relatable to our actors, as they are reaching a point in their lives when they understand that their parents occupy more space in the world than merely a protector, a provider, and a teacher.

“Namely, they see their parents are human. Willy Loman is a man the world outgrew, and that’s a condition everyone will have to one day consider as they see their parents age, and they themselves progress from youth to adulthood, from adulthood to old age.”

Scott Whitney on this production’s talent pool: “Leon Tuthill (who plays Willy Loman and is seen at right in an early rehearsal) is something of an ‘old soul,’ as they say, and has a reputation for spot-on imitations of our faculty, so we thought that we’d put that to productive use. Chelsie Field has given us two incredible performances, in Ionesco’s ‘Rhinoceros’ last year and this year’s Dorothy Parker monologue. It would have made sense to undertake ‘Salesman’ just on the strength of their pairing, but we found ourselves with an equally strong supporting cast.”

By BRENNA KEOGH

All involved with the Mohawk Arts and Education Council’s production of “Death of a Salesman” were given a break from daily rehearsals during school vacation from April 18-22.

However, lack of rehearsals did not eliminate work for most cast members. When practices resume on Tuesday, April 26, all are expected to have memorized their lines and be “off book.”

This task will be especially difficult for lead roles Willy Loman (Leon Tuthill) and Linda Loman (Chelsie Field). Their efforts in memorization will be critically important so that actors and actresses can continue getting deeply in to their characters.

As Field says, “Memorizing so many lines comes from dedication and practice. Turning those words into a performance comes from a genuine passion and love for acting.”

Without scripts actions can be blocked with more nuance and specificity. This process of micro-blocking will be paired with the integration of props.

As pieces of the production come together the crew continues to enjoy all parts of the process. Student director Rachel Glod explains, “We will also be having a ton of fun (always)!”

By THEO GABRIEL

Here’s the scene: Maxx Crowl, Chelsea Field and I, joined by others from the cast, sit outside of the Mohawk Trail Regional High School auditorium with battered scripts and trade comments in funny voices.

Curious teachers and students stop and watch as these young actors work to bring Biff, Linda and Happy Loman, and a few others, to life.

Lines snatched out of context sound strange to the passersby. Looks and laughs pass among the actors as they continue to practice for the coming show of Arthur Miller’s “Death of A Salesman.

Perhaps nowhere else at Mohawk can such camaraderie be seen as in the drama department during the making of this production.

As one in the middle of it, I can report that the bonds being formed are priceless and lay the basis for true friendship.

This team-building experience is important to the performance not only because it helps the cast memorize, but because it enables us to connect and begin to feel more like family, which makes acting on stage as a family look more authentic.

We are looking forward to the performance. See you there!

By LUCIE McCORMICK

For weeks, the cast and crew of “Death of a Salesman” had been working at blocking scenes and running through the script. After much hard work, they have completed the blocking of the entire show. Now it’s time for memorization before school starts again next week.

And then comes the task of getting these characters to come alive onstage at Mohawk.

A great deal of stress has been put on many of the cast members. According to some of his fellow actors, Leon Tuthill, who has many lines in the play as Willy Loman, has “been putting his best foot forwards” despite the pressure put on him to memorize the script.

Maxx Crowl, who plays the character of Biff, said during a short interview, “I think it’s going alright, as long as everyone memorizes their lines … we have good actors and actresses.”

Last week, the cast was to run approximately one hundred pages of the script as well as viewing a film version of Arthur Miller’s play to see their characters in action.

Having attended several of the rehearsals myself, I believe that this show is going to be extremely good and do justice to the play.

By BRENNA KEOGH

With six weeks left until production, the “Death of a Salesman” cast is doggedly memorizing lines. They are running scenes using scripts, but by the end of April break, practices will be “off book.”

Directors are steadily working through the text and are more than halfway through the initial blocking process. The uniquely designed set, constructed March 26, helps actors and directors alike, both in acting and blocking.

After school ended March 29, the Mohawk auditorium stirred into life as actors playing leading characters arrived to continue blocking.

Bernard (Riley Kelleher) arrived, quickly followed by Willy Loman (Leon Tuthill). Simultaneously, his sons, Biff (Maxx Crowl) and Happy (Theodor Gabriel), wandered on the stage.

Characters practiced lines calmly sitting on the edge of platforms and the tops of fold-over seats. Directors Neale Gay, Scott Whitney, and Rachel Glod conversed quietly.

When Linda (Chelsie Field) arrived, the group straightened up and organized to begin blocking the scene in which Willy daydreams about talking to his brother Ben and the moments before his son Biff’s football game.

Whitney was in the pit working the scenes through his mind, as actors and actresses read lines, moving around the stage and through the set. He suggested that Happy enter on stage left and that Willy remain at center stage, while Ben should check his watch as he said a certain line.

The scene was run again with modifications. The cast then continued on to another.
The cast presses on despite school cancellation on April 1 with an added rehearsal Sunday and through the following school week.

The following is the Mohawk Trail Regional High School’s cast of “Death of a Salesman,” which opens May. 13

WILLY LOMAN — Leon Tuthill
LINDA — Chelsie Field
BIFF — Maxx Crowl (pictured)
HAPPY — Theodor Gabriel
BERNARD — Riley Kelleher
THE WOMAN — Liberty Styles
CHARLEY — Richard Creque
JENNY — Alanna MacLeod-Bluver
STANLEY — Allen Gabriel
OPERATOR VOICE — Allen Gabriel
SECOND WAITER — Owen Bragdon
MISS FORSYTH/GIRL — Gabriel Chevalier
LETTA — Eliza Hollister
SECRETARY — Lucie McCormick
VOICE OF HOWARD’S WIFE — Lucie McCormick
DINER CUSTOMER — Aaron Davis
HOWARD — Scott Whitney
UNCLE BEN — Neale Gay

In June 1999, The News Hour on PBS devoted a long segment to the 50th anniversary of “Death of a Salesman.”

A transcript of the broadcast is available.

The piece interspersed scenes of an anniversary production of the play on Broadway, starring Brian Dennehy as Willy Loman, with on-camera interviews with actors and directors.

Playwright Arthur Miller joined program to talk about how he views the play.