Although I am disappointed that the Goodman’s stages remain dark, I am pleased to offer you the chance to stream a momentous and timely production from the theater’s history: Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. I directed the production in 1998; the following year it moved to Broadway, where it won four Tony Awards and was subsequently filmed by Showtime. After two decades in their “vault,” the production now emerges for a new generation.
By the mid 1990s, I had worked three times with actor Brian Dennehy: Galileo, The Iceman Cometh, and A Touch of the Poet. I wondered what play he and I might tackle next. The answer came to me one evening when I noticed Brian—who had recently turned 60—limping from an old football injury to his knees. I suddenly had the image of Miller’s greatest creation, Willy Loman, entering the stage and carrying two heavy valises. I turned to Brian: “We should do Death of a Salesman,” I said, and to my delight, he enthusiastically agreed.
Despite his achy knees, Brian proved to be at the height of his powers. During the play’s successful run in Chicago, Arthur Miller (then 84 years old) saw the production and gave the go-ahead for it to move to Broadway the following year in celebration of the play’s 50th anniversary. As we prepared to remount the show in New York, Arthur was a constant presence in the rehearsal room, giving notes and relishing the opportunity to bring his masterwork back to Broadway exactly fifty years to the day after its February 10, 1949 premiere. The Goodman’s Salesman ran for nine months to enthusiastic audiences and attracted the interest of the Showtime network. Two days were spent in 1999 filming the production in front of live audiences, which appeared on the network only four times in January of 2000.
Twenty years later, in April of this year, I and many others mourned the death of Brian Dennehy, an actor whose volcanic presence and great humanity had defined the work of such masters as Eugene O’Neill and Bertolt Brecht, and especially Arthur Miller. I blew the dust off an old video cassette of the Showtime recording, revisited Brian’s heart-rending performance, and thought how wonderful it would be to present the production with its brilliant Broadway cast once more. With the enthusiasm and permission of Showtime and the show’s original Broadway producers, we set about making it available for viewing at a time when sadly, we are unable to produce on our stages.
Arthur Miller, who died in 2005, explored in this play and others what it means to be an American. What can we expect from our country? How do we find fulfillment if we are just scraping by? Do all our daily efforts make a difference? These questions remain as relevant today as they were in 1949, when the play premiered, and in the late 1990s when I directed it. Whether you first encountered Death of a Salesman in a high school class, or by seeing a production, or whether you’ve never encountered it at all, I invite you to consider Miller’s vexing questions through the lens of America’s past, present and future.