Great Plays: Death of a Salesman vs. The Glass Menagerie

23 Jul

I read quite a few great plays back in high school, along with other works of literature that got made into plays/movies at some point in their journey.

In fact, I may have read more solemn literature in my high school years than I have in the years since then, as I was quite a serious student who had not yet developed a sense of humor. No balance.

The serious 20th century playwrights definitely got my attention: Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, and Eugene O’Neill, for three examples. Although, in all fairness, I didn’t see O’Neill’s Moon for the Misbegotten until college and I later read his A Long Day’s Journey into Night while serving with the Navy in Jacksonville, Florida.

While I used part of Miller’s The Crucible for my recitation in a high school forensics competition, my favorite play of his was Death of a Salesman. And I just now had the incredible treat of finding Death of a Salesman on Netflix with Dustin Hoffman playing the title role of Willy Loman.

Amazingly, Hoffman was made up as an old man while playing opposite John Malkovich as Willy’s son Biff. Magical.

Hoffman affected a crooked spine and the laborious walk of an old man so well that it took me a full ten minutes to convince myself that was really him. Of course, he carried off Rainman the same way, studying the moves and gestures of people with autism until he could convince us he was legitimately a part of that world!

Any movie that goes over two hours can’t be all sober moments, however (or the audience would become suicidal!!! LOL!), so the flashbacks to happier days between Willy Loman, his wife, and his two sons work very well to lighten up the atmosphere and to fill in parts of the Loman family history that might baffle us.

The classic lines about the worth of a man play with resounding power in this version of the play/movie. The scene where Willy Loman loses his job after 38 years, without retirement or severance pay, is heartbreaking, especially when Willy reminds his boss, the son of his original boss, that one can’t just totally consume a fruit, then toss the peel aside afterwards.


On the other hand, I recently saw a Netflix version of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie with Katharine Hepburn as Amanda Wingfield. That, too, was an extraordinary work.

The play was not nearly as sad as I remembered it, particularly as my aging process has given me a more philosophical outlook about the very fact that Amanda’s daughter Laura opens up to love for the first time with her “gentleman caller,” foreshadowing the idea that she will be able to love again (and maybe again after that!).

Amanda’s son Tom does remain nigh on hopeless, but then again he was a autobiographical twin of Tennessee Williams!

What a treat to see great plays done with great actors and actresses.


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