Sullivan seemed to miss the most important reason why this play just doesn’t hold up anymore. Despite the misguided efforts of English teachers and drama critics to convince us of its greatness, “Salesman” has to be the most overrated play of the American theater. So, while camera angles, sets and the decision to play the lead character as a peppy puppy rather than a wounded elephant have some effect on the production, the basic problem lies with the written word.
Willy Loman is simply too small to support a tragedy. He’s a type, not a character. His whole life he has been a foolish, little liar and cheat, incapable of understanding the simplest truth about himself, his family or the world around him. We never find out if he really was a good salesman. Playwright Arthur Miller keeps telling us attention must be paid to this trivial man, but never tells us why. Surely, copping out by asking for cheap sympathy for a character because he is--cliche of cliches--a human being is the last refuge of a hack. If Willy is just an ordinary run-of-the-mill guy, a play based on him could possibly be a black comedy or a mediocre melodrama, but certainly not an American classic.