Classic Theater Reimagined

Look at what these young Dallas actors can do with Death of a Salesman

Look at what these young Dallas actors can do with Death of a Salesman

Death of a Salesman at Fun House
Jeff Swearingen, Kennedy Waterman, Tex Patrello, and Chris Rodenbaugh in Death of a Salesman. Photo by Gabrielle Grafrath

The concept of "age-blind" casting might sound gimmicky, but somehow when Fun House Theatre and Film does it, it's merely a footnote to the production.

The Plano troupe has long been known for tasking its young actors with grown-up material, and that contrast is usually part of the fun. From the mouths of babes come the words of heavyweight scribes such as Albee, Stoppard, and even Mamet, and now Arthur Miller has been added to the teens' repertoire. This affecting production of his 1949 drama Death of a Salesman, however, unearths universal truths that strike a nerve with multiple generations.

Fun House co-founder Jeff Swearingen assumes the slumped shoulders of always-on-the-road Willy Loman, but all other roles are tackled by actors aged 14 to 18 years. Thankfully this is not a recipe for bad wigs and laughable old-age makeup (Coy Covington and Gabrielle Grafrath both contribute top-notch elements), even better, the show transcends age.

Director Susan Sargeant approaches the work not as a relic of times gone by, but with an urgency that reflects the world's economic unrest. If Willy's unceremonious dismissal from his lifelong profession feels familiar, it's because it's definitely happening to workers of all ages. Swearingen shows Willy dealing with not only his disappearing paycheck but also what appears to be encroaching dementia or Alzheimer's that's muddling his memories and straining his relationships.

The sparse set by Clare Floyd DeVries allows the actors to float in and out of time, working in tandem with Suzanne Lavender's crisp lighting to delineate different points in Willy's life. Through excellent physical work, the young actors also age back and forth from carefree and young to older and more world-weary.

Willy's wife Linda (the always impressive Kennedy Waterman) fights valiantly for her husband, though we are shown repeatedly his less-than-savory actions hardly deserve her devotion. Eldest son Biff (Christopher Rodenbaugh) is directionless in his mid-30s, relying on his high school popularity to propel him through life. And younger son Happy (a breakout performance by Tex Patrello) has confused womanizing and material goods with success.

Each show at Fun House runs two weeks, and that's lamentably short for this one. Attention must be paid.

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Fun House Theatre and Film's Death of a Salesman runs through November 21 at the Black Box Theatre at Plano Children's Theatre.