A respectful rendering of a classic American tragedy

Apron Theater concludes its first season with ‘Death of a Salesman’ at Next Stage

PUTNEY — The Apron Theatre Company, in association with the Next Stage Arts Project, presents Arthur Miller's Pulitzer- and Tony-award-winning play “Death of a Salesman” at Next Stage in Putney on the next two weekends in October.

Following successful summer productions of “Wit” and “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” “Death of a Salesman” is the third and final production of the inaugural 2013 season by Next Stage's “theater-company-in-residence,” the Apron Theatre Company, founded this year by Karla Baldwin, Hallie Flower, and Carrie Kidd.

Directed by Kidd, “Death of a Salesman” stars Arthur Pettee as Willy Loman, a lifelong traveling salesman increasingly confused by his place in the world, his effect on his wife and sons' lives, and the myth of the American Dream.

The cast also includes Jean Devereux Koester as Linda Loman; Eric Cutler and Matthew McDougall as sons Biff and Happy; and Jonny Mack as Willy's new, young boss, Howard.

Also starring are Ray Mahoney, Francis Hauert, Adrienne Major, Jerry Levy, Christina Doe, and Nancy Groff.

Jonathan Hathaway is set designer; John Todd is lighting designer; Vivian Smith is costumer; Heather Taylor is set painter.

Kidd says she has long wanted to direct a production of “Salesman”:

“When Karla, Halle, and I reformed Apron Theater Company earlier this year, we wanted to have a very diverse season, including something cutting-edge, a contemporary favorite, and a classic, always at the same time presenting challenging work for our audience.”

Where “Wit” is cutting-edge, and “Inishmaan” is a favorite, “Salesman” certainly fills the bill as classic.

Written in 1949, “Death of a Salesman” is widely considered one of America's greatest plays, and is celebrated as the first great American tragedy. It transformed Miller into a national sensation.

Following its original Broadway run, “Salesman” enjoyed Broadway revivals in 1975, 1984, 1999, and 2012. Actors following in the weary footsteps of Lee J. Cobb as Willy Loman include George C. Scott, Dustin Hoffman, Brian Dennehy, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

“The play is very contemporary,” says Kidd. She adds that she has been drawn to this social aspect of the drama.

“Although it was written more than 60 years ago, Miller's play is still very challenging material. I find the story very emotional and sometimes difficult to watch. The play is very relevant to much that is happening to many people in this country over the past decade, as so many are getting the shaft from big business and falling through the cracks.”

When Willy finds that, because of changing economic conditions - and his inability to sell on the road - his company has no further need of his services, he's devastated, Kidd says.

She finds what Miller conveys in “Salesman” also has personal resonance for her. “My father struggled to provide for our family. The play is very truthfully written and comes from lived experiences. Miller also has seen this happen with some of his relatives who were caught in a web of lies.”

Kidd says she believes that it is essential to perform “Salesman” traditionally:

“I can't see it done any other way. You can't fool around too much with this material. All the elements fall into place like in a puzzle.”

“Salesman” is the second full-length play Kidd has directed. She had directed an acclaimed production of “Dancing at Lughnasa” (1990) for a New Hampshire theatre company (and was assistant director on “Wit” under Hallie Flowers).

“I learned a lot working with Hallie, and Keely Eastley who was so incredible in the starring role,” Kidd says.

Kidd's theatrical training has been as an actor, both at Rutgers University and the Actors Institute in New York City.

“I left theater 20 years ago,” she says. “But recently I came to realize that I was missing something important in my life. I also missed being around the excitement and energy of theater people, many of whom have had the same experiences I have had.”

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