PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Death of a Salesman A Nichols' Worth of "a-Dime-a-Dozen"

By Harry Haun
16 Mar 2012

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Just as Miller and Kazan bowed to Cobb's baritone bellow, it is easy to see why Nichols chose Hoffman for Willy. In the 2007 film they did together, "Charlie Wilson's War," the actor went on a couple of roof-lifting ballistic rants that yelled that picture into Oscar-nominated distinction. They still ring in the ears. He had also served Nichols well six years earlier as Meryl Streep's tightly wound offspring, Konstantin, in The Seagull at the Delacorte up in Central Park. There would be no way that Hoffman's Willy would go gentle into that good night.

And, under Nichols' meticulous and compassionate direction, the sounds of the father are inherited by the sons. Hoffman's individual and unmistakable style of arguing — full-out, frontal rage — is echoed by his boys, by Andrew Garfield's Biff and Finn Wittrock's Happy. No mystery where they picked that up.

With all that twisting and shouting on the homefront, the metallic tinkle of Linda Emond's Linda Loman somehow manages to be heard. The most visibly painful aspect of her performance is her unwavering protection of her lost-cause husband.

There is some nice luxury casting in the supporting roles: Tony winner John Glover comes and goes as Ben, the brother who got away and made a mythic killing in the wilderness of Willy's mind, and Obie winner Bill Camp is the friend next door Willy never really liked who musters the play's most poetic epitaph. In a solid Broadway debut, Fran Kranz is the latter's son, a hopeless nerd who made something of himself and put Willy's roiling litter to shame. Remy Auberjonois is the uncaring son of Willy's beloved boss, only too happy to put him out to pasture. Throughout the supporting ranks, there are little, life-giving touches from Nichols: The chippy that Willy chases in Boston (Molly Price) is convincingly on the chunky side; the bartender Willy suicidally overtips (Glenn Fleshler) kindly returns the money to his pocket, et al . . .

The cast of 17 — an anomaly in these hard economic times which the play addresses so directly — stood tall for the curtain call and stayed in place for a second one, egged on by the bravos and ovations of their starry, show-savvy audience.

Doing their darnedest to skip the press line and paparazzi in front of the Barrymore: Mrs. Don Gummer (La Streep, who owes some of 17 Oscar nominations and one of her Emmys to Nichols), Stephen Sondheim and Emma Stone of "The Help," Garfield's main-squeeze and the distressed damsel in his forthcoming "Amazing Spider-Man" movie which will be web-slinging into theatres soon.

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Andrew Garfield
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Not unexpectedly, an abundance of directors was in attendance: Gregory Mosher, Stanley Donen and Elaine May, Moises Kaufman, Dan Sullivan, Michael Greif (with son David), George C. Wolfe ("I was a 21-year-old Willy Loman in college!"), David Cromer (whose acclaimed Tribes may stretch deep into the summer while he's in Chicago directing Rent and Sweet Bird of Youth) and Bart Freundlich (with Sarah Palin — or was it his wife, Julianne Moore?).

Jeffrey Wright (who owes his Tony to Wolfe and his Emmy to Nichols for the same performance in Angels in America) was also in attendance, as were Chris Messina, entertainment attorneys Jason Baruch and Mark Sendroff, New York City Ballet's Jacques d'Amboise, Entertainment Weekly editor Jess Cagle, Tony nominee Bobby Cannavale (now of "Nurse Jackie" and "Broadwalk Empire"), Charlie Cox of the latter, Bill Hader of "Saturday Night Live," Marlo Thomas (who starred for Nichols on Broadway in Social Security), Tony nominee Stephen McKinley Henderson, set designer Tony Walton (bracing himself for tears at seeing Jo Mielziner's set again), playwright Rob Ackerman (whose Call Me Waldo just ended a sold-out run Off-Broadway and who has already starting writing his next, Mookie, the Cat From Harlem), playwright Paul Rudnick (who's branching out into young adult novels and adapting "Summit" for the screen). Rosie Perez (who got to keep the sensational white coat she wore in Close Up Space), four-time Tony winner Zoe Caldwell (whose late husband, Robert Whitehead, co-produced Dustin Hoffman's Death of the Salesman), producer Jon B. Platt (who received CTI's Robert Whitehead Award earlier in the week and is on board for this revival) and Anna-Deavere Smith.

Broadway-bound themselves are Boyd Gaines, who's playing Stewart Alsop, brother of The Columnist, Joseph (John Lithgow), right next door to the Barrymore at the Biltmore; and Carol Kane, who'll play Charles Kimbrough's wife in the Broadway revival of Mary Chase's Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvey, arriving June 14 at Studio 54. Kane was in Nichols' "Carnal Knowledge" — and "we've gone to a lot of plays and done a lot of dinners since."

Couples included "The Good Wife" and her good husband (Julianna Margulies and Keith Lieberthal), Diane von Furstenberg with Barry Diller, columnist Liz Smith with fellow Texan, publisher Joe Armstrong, a tres pregnant Maggie Gyllenhaal and Peter Sarsgaard, the Tony-nominated duo of The Goodbye Girl (Bernadette Peters and Martin Short). Arriving separately, thus keeping his face martini-dry: that splashing "Smash" pair — Oscar winner Anjelica Huston and Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cristofer.

Very much playing the good wife: Diane Sawyer, becalming a nervously smiling Nichols in an alcove leading to the box seats just before the show began.