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'Salesman' coming to SCR

August 27, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • Charlie Robinson runs lines with Kim Staunton during a rehearsal of South Coast Repertory's "Death of a Salesman."
Charlie Robinson runs lines with Kim Staunton during… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

He is the great sad sack of American drama, the luckless everyman, the "hard-working drummer" who has died more than a half-century of deaths.

Lee J. Cobb introduced him on Broadway. Dustin Hoffman played him memorably in the 1980s. High school English teachers across the world can likely quote large swatches of his dialogue. And as South Coast Repertory prepares to commemorate 50 years, it will look to him to kick off the season.

Willy Loman, the burnt-out, hot-tempered yet naively idealistic protagonist of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman," is a role that actors have ached to play — and directors have ached to put a spin on — for decades. This month at SCR, Charlie Robinson will take the part and Marc Masterson will take the director's chair, and like a pair tackling "Hamlet," they'll have the dual challenge of honoring a classic and making it stand out from countless other attempts.

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"It definitely makes you feel a little bit concerned, because you want to try to do the best you can," said Robinson, who recently appeared in SCR's "Fences" and "Jitney" and is playing Miller's character for the first time. "But what's important, I believe, is to find a way to bring what you can bring, your personal life, into Willy Loman. That's the only way to play it and make sense out of it."

What Robinson brings to the part is empathy above all. In Loman, who doggedly tries to provide for his family while urging his sons to be successful men, the actor sees more than a grain of himself.

"The reason why it works so well is because it's about family and trying to keep family together," Robinson said. "And in my situation, I'm able to bring so much to it because of the fact that I have this great family. I'm constantly, in my life, trying to put them together, make things work in my life. So I understand what that's about."

With Miller's melancholy classic, SCR will launch a season of celebration. "Salesman," which has its first preview Friday and begins its regular run Sept. 7, will precede five other plays on the Segerstrom Stage, including the seasonal staple "A Christmas Carol" and the Moliere farce "Tartuffe."

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