The Death and Ongoing Life of a Salesman

Death of a Salesman is a popular, critically acclaimed play first published in 1949. Written by the American playwright Arthur Miller, the award-winning play has been produced for both the big screen and television and remains one of the most enduring publications of the 20th century.

The plot

Death of a Salesman portrays the relationship between an American businessman named Willy Loman and his two sons, Biff and Happy. Willy's sons are a disappointment to him, as they have opted not to follow in his footsteps and pursue a professional career. Instead, they have chosen to rely on their good looks and athletic physiques and, still living at home, they provide a constant source of frustration for their father. As the play progresses, the relationships become more fractious, spiraling into a single, shocking event that doesn't quite have the intended consequences.

Original production

The original production opened on Broadway in 1949. During that run, three different actors played the title role, and the play attracted multiple awards. It won a Tony Award for Best Play, Best Supporting or Featured Actor and Best Director, as well as a number of others. In 1949, it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the New York Drama Critics' Circle award for Best Play.

Later productions

As of 2012, the play has been revived on Broadway four times. In 1975, the play opened at the Circle in the Square Theater, where George C. Scott played Willy. In 1984, the play returned, this time with Dustin Hoffman in the lead role, for a run of 97 performances, and then an additional 88. In 1999, the play was revived in the Eugene O'Neill Theater with Brian Dennehy in the lead role. In 2012, the play returned for just 16 weeks with Philip Seymour Hoffman in the title role, supported by Andrew Garfield, who had also been cast in the lead role for the new Spider-Man movie.

Film and television

The play has been adapted for film or television seven times. The first version, produced in 1951, was nominated for an Academy Award, and director Laszlo Benedek went on to win the Golden Globe Award for Best Director. Dustin Hoffman starred in a 1985 adaptation, following his successful run on Broadway. This was repeated in 2000, when Brian Dennehy reprised the title role for an adaptation directed by Kirk Browning.

Pop culture references

The play's enduring appeal and themes ensure that it continues to appear in modern pop culture. The television series Seinfeld makes a number of references to the film, including a scene where one of the characters tells his son not to whistle in the elevator, mimicking a similar scene between Willy and his son. Larry David, an executive producer on Seinfeld, also refers to the character of Willy Loman in an episode of his own show, Curb Your Enthusiasm. Carolyn Burnham tells her husband in the film American Beauty that the Lomans have moved out next door, a reference to the family at the center of Death of A Salesman. An episode of Family Guy is devoted entirely to the play, and it also features in two episodes of The Simpsons.

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