"The play spoke to me as the son of a salesman," said Bill Bushnell, whose staging of "Death of a Salesman" opens Saturday at Los Angeles Theater Center downtown.
"First, my father sold used cars. Then he sold lumber. He was fired when the young turks came in and threw out all the old guys over 50--about as abruptly as what happens to Willy in the play."
This production follows Bushnell's 1987 revival of Miller's first play, "All My Sons" (1947), in which shoddy factory work leads to the death of young American pilots.
"That season, we did all the first plays of the major playwrights of the '40s and '50s: (William Inge's) 'Come Back, Little Sheba,' 'All My Sons' and (Tennessee Williams') 'The Glass Menagerie,' " he explained.
"It seemed important for me to start my exploration of Miller at the beginning. Of course, I like to think I had foresight. I did ("Sons") six months before the Challenger blew up."
In fact, Bushnell's production opened in May 1986, five months after the Challenger disaster. But we got his point: "The fact is, that issue never goes away. And the tragedy of Willy Loman, its political significance, is just as pertinent today."
Philip Baker Hall was the guilty contractor in "All My Sons" and also plays Willy Loman.
"Philip fits Miller's description of the little man," Bushnell said. "Miller had to put in the word walrus when Lee J. Cobb played the role. But the sensibility of Willy is of the little man fighting a great big world.
And Hall comes from a background that makes this play understandable to him. It's as much Biff's play as Willy's. "The one who comes to peace with himself is Biff. The one who's going to go on is Biff."
Christopher McDonald is Biff, Gregory Wagrowski plays Happy, and Edith Fields plays Linda Loman.
IN THE CARDS: A weekly poker game is the setting for Colin Patrick Lynch's "One-Eyed Jacks and Suicide Kings," the maiden production of the Total Theatre Ensemble at the Beverly Hills Playhouse.
Playwright Lynch, 21, knows his subject. "I played poker a lot in high school," he said. (He's in college now--UCLA.) "Poker has this mystique, because it's a game of chance and luck. It's also got a huge tradition in this country as a guys' game, a game of friends. The story itself about is the inevitable dissolving of a friendship--and of growth."
THEATER BUZZ: With Halloween approaching, one solution to the ever-pressing dilemma of what to wear for trick-or-treat is a visit to the Center Theatre Group Costume Shop. The over-40,000 rentals include stage duds designed for Charlton Heston, Christopher Reeve, Michael J. Fox, Bernadette Peters, Lauren Bacall and Mick Jagger--plus traditional masquerade, witch, wizard, ghost, ghoul and skeleton attire. The shop is at 3301 E. 14th St., (213) 267-1230. Rentals start at $25.
Also in the Halloween spirit: Jackie Torrence (aka the Story Lady) brings her repertoire of ghosts and goblins to UC Riverside today, and to UCLA's Wadsworth Theatre Saturday and next Sunday . . . William Marshall, star of the '70s cult films "Blacula" and "Scream, Blacula, Scream," appears in a staged reading of Bram Stoker's "Dracula" for an Oct. 30 fundraiser at Hollywood's First Stage. Jacque Lynn Colton ("Kingfish") directs. Information: (213) 850-6271.
CRITICAL CROSS FIRE: Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" recently opened at the Doolittle Theatre, under the direction of Albee. John Lithgow and Glenda Jackson do battle as the notorious George and Martha.
Said Dan Sullivan in The Times: "Can a revival return us to those innocent, guilty days when people had to get loaded before revealing their inmost secrets, rather than trotting them out over dessert? Can this play still harrow us? Probably. But it didn't Wednesday night."
From the Daily News' Tom Jacobs: "Inevitably, the play has lost its power to shock. But it hasn't lost its relevance; some of its insights seem more on-target today than ever. And if it has lost of its emotional power, that is more the fault of the all-star production."
The Herald Examiner's Charles Marowitz found the stars' chemistry "the sort that produces proliferating combustions. Their George and Martha are a well-sustained double act that wreaks more laughter than Albee's play has probably ever evoked before. Perhaps more than is good for its growling, satanic underbelly."