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Delivering a towering tragedy with heart, skill


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Originally Posted Online: April 17, 2013, 10:29 am
Last Updated: April 18, 2013, 1:56 pm
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By Jonathan Turner, jturner@qconline.com

What a difference 12 years makes.

In 2001, Jim Driscoll, of Davenport, played Biff in Arthur Miller's towering tragedy, "Death of a Salesman," at Playcrafters Barn Theatre, Moline. Now, he's the crushed central character (and Biff's father) Willy Loman in the 1949 Pulitzer- and Tony-winning classic at Richmond Hill Players, Geneseo.

While I didn't see the Playcrafters version, Mr. Driscoll offers a deeply moving portrayal here of afailing traveling salesman (careening toward retirement, irrelevance and suicide) who can't understand how he didn't achieve success and happiness. Willy is profoundly tortured and Mr. Driscoll expertly reveals the whiplash-inducing shifts among commanding self-assurance, dreams of the future, a raging, insensitive temper, and paralyzing self-doubt and fear.

"Salesman" is a heavy drama in many ways -- it solemnly addresses the weighty subjects of a man's worth in work and family; a wife and mother's selfless devotion to her spouse and children, and the two sons' quest for identity, love (of themselves and a significant other), a purpose in life and meeting a father's great expectations. While we never see Willy "driving," the entire staggering scope of the play feels like an inexorable, sickeningly terrible ride toward tragedy (which, of course, it is).

The most consistent source of tension and drama comes in the scenes between Willy and Biff, here embodied by the imposing, outstanding Dana Moss-Peterson. At 34, Willy's older son Biff was a high school football star (as we see in flashback), but failed math his senior year and dropped out of school after seeing his father with another woman while visiting him in Boston (as we also see in its shock and awkwardness).

Biff has gone through several unsatisfying jobs and says he's happiest working outside as a farmhand. But he agonizingly wrestles with his confusion over what he should be and how to live up to what his father wants for him. We hear Willy call him a "lazy bum," his mother say he's "just lost," but Mr. Driscoll clearly shows he wants the best for Biff, helping line up a fateful job interview for him.

Mr. Moss-Peterson displays an authoritative intensity in voice and mannerisms that is riveting to behold. The play shows the depth of unresolved issues between Biff and Willy, and when they erupt in volcanic argument, the emotional lava is hot and devastating. It's hard to watch, but certainly makes for electrifying theater.

The forceful supporting cast at Richmond Hill includes Bryan Woods as Bernard, Ann Keeney-Grafft as the "other woman," Bill Hudson as Charley, Bruce Carmen as Uncle Ben, Nathan Johnson as Howard, Josh LeFebvre as Stanley, Stacy McKean Herrick as Miss Forsythe and Molly McLaughlin as Letta.

James Fairchild, of Rock Island, helms the heartbreaking show with a firm, persuasive hand, noting in the program how ecstatic he is to be directing one of the greatest plays in American theater. Mr. Fairchild and the earnest, believable cast bring tremendous honor and dignity to a timeless work that continues to teach us about family, love and dedication.





If you go


-- What: "Death of a Salesman"
-- When: 7:30 p.m. tonight, Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday.
-- Where: The Barn Theater atop Richmond Hill Park in Geneseo.
-- Tickets: $10, available by calling 309-944-2244 or visiting rhplayers.com.
















 



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  Today is Monday, Sept. 22, the 265th day of 2014. There are 100 days left in the year.

1864 -- 150 years ago: The board of education has granted Thursday as a holiday for the children, with the expectation that parents who desire to have their children attend the Scott County Fair will do so on that day and save irregularity the rest of the week.
1889 -- 125 years ago: The guard fence around the new cement walk at the Harper House has been removed. The blocks are diamond shape, alternating in black and white.
1914 -- 100 years ago: The Rev. R.B. Williams, former pastor of the First Methodist Church, Rock Island, was named superintendent of the Rock Island District.
1939 -- 75 years ago: Abnormally high temperatures and lack of rainfall in Illinois during the past week have speeded maturing of corn and soybean crops.
1964 -- 50 years ago: Installation of a new television system in St. Anthony's Hospital, which includes a closed circuit channel as well as the three regular Quad-Cities channels, has been completed and now is in operation.
1989 -- 25 years ago: When the new Moline High School was built in 1958, along with it were plans to construct a football field in the bowl near 34th Street on the campus. Wednesday afternoon, more than 30 years later, the Moline Board of Education Athletic Board sent the ball rolling toward the possible construction of that field by asking superintendent Richard Hennigan to take to the board of education a proposal to hire a consultant.






(More History)