Imagine Arthur Miller’s American tragedy “Death of a Salesman” as a visual-aural tone poem, delivered from the afterlife.
That is what director Paul Budraitis has done in the next-dimension dreamscape of his new performance piece, “The Salesman is Dead and Gone” at Richard Hugo House.
The archetypal mid-20th-century American salesman Willy Loman (played here with silent intensity by Mark Waldstein) awakens, panic-stricken, in a coffin filled with sand, set in a dun-colored room/grave.
Outside, a dark sky is strung with glittering stars. Inside, Willy occupies a tomb of memory, where protoplasmic projections and sounds from his troubled past (mainly via sound snippets of Miller’s play, from a “Death of a Salesman” film starring Dustin Hoffman) waft through to haunt and confound him.
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Some of the visions Budraitis conjures — working with a sensitive palette of light and shadow, film and prop magic — are startling, arresting, tender, as Willy revisits the feelings and encounters that led to his suicide at the end of Miller’s drama. A miniature tree suddenly sprouts up in the coffin. A bit of an old Jack Benny radio skit pipes in from a receptor that resembles a dollhouse. Wrenching dialogue, a dance with his wife and some fraught horseplay with his son Biff are heard as if from afar.
The piece suffers in spots from a glacial slowness, and its aura of heavy, grainy gloom and failure gets oppressive. Ultimately, “The Salesman is Dead and Gone” doesn’t help us penetrate Willy’s psyche: he seems just as befuddled and lost in death as in life. But the vivid visual imagination Budraitis invests employs here beguiles. It’s like nothing else we’ve seen lately from a Seattle theater artist.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org