Art, like people, is subject to the winds of change. Without proper perspective on the times in which they are created, great creative works of any medium can be judged inappropriately. Only an esteemed few can weather the transformation of society. Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” is most certainly indicative of a particular period in the United States, yet the heart of the story is definitively timeless. Hannah Ryan’s recent presentation of the story’s female lead, Linda Loman, does not re-envision this iconic role but resoundingly brings an energy to the concerned wife and mother of the Loman household. Miller’s Pulitzer Prize (1949) and Tony Award winning Play has endured for decades as an evergreen tale of despair, hope, and loss. Perhaps more than any other character in the story, Linda offers the kindness and warmth which unifies the family; a characteristic which Hannah brings prominently in Judith Bohannon’s 2018 production at the Charlie Chaplin Theatre.
Casting is paramount in any production. The role of Linda Loman has a powerful lineage with Mildred Dunnock’s Oscar nominated performance in the 1951 film and Kate Reid’s Golden Globe nominated performance in the 1985 TV version, also starring Dustin Hoffman and John Malkovich. Bohannon (known for Welcome Home, Soldier Boys, David Cassidy - Man Undercover, and The Ren & Stimpy Show) had already cast another actress in the role of Linda when she witnessed Hannah’s powerful performance as Kate Mundy in the play “Dancing at Lughnasa” and approached her to take on the part. The director later referred to Ryan’s presentation of Mrs. Loman as, “…so beautiful, balancing strength with pain and vulnerability; being the protector and the puppy while showing the true hardship of a family dynamic.”
A character such as Linda Loman can be troublesome for an actress in the modern age. She represents many of the antiquated archetypes of the early twentieth-century spouse and mother. Sacrificing her aspirations to support a family of men who don’t truly know who they are themselves; it’s the inverse of a creatively driven actress in the late 2010s. Of course, this is the engine that drives someone like Hannah and made her the standout choice of the play’s director. In a very optimistic tone, Ryan reveals, “Linda might seem somewhat antiquated on the surface but it’s an actor’s purpose to find the person underneath. I’m from a big family and could relate to her sense of being a caretaker, the financial struggles, the wife and mother’s role of keeping a family together and functional through hardship. Linda is a difficult woman to understand at first. She has so many layers and so many reasons for those layers. It’s easy to misconvey her, presenting her as weak and submissive when in fact she is the strength and power behind a whole family of males. Unearthing this in her was challenging but equally fun.”
In spite of the title of the play and the attention Willy Loman receives, Linda Loman is very much the unintuitive star of the story. She is the hub for the main characters, bringing cohesion and a bitter sense of truth at times to the family. The reception of audiences’ to Hannah Ryan’s mesmerizing present day yet past homage to this character was overwhelming lauded. The play closes with Linda center stage, alone while talking to Willy’s grave. As she begins to let everything out and finally surrender to the pain, the audience sees her completely vulnerable for the first time. It’s in this moment that Hannah’s depth in this role was most evident.