This past December I was lucky enough to attend a week and a half long festival at the Hungarian Theatre of Cluj, Romania. I saw some spectacularly daring work by modern titans of the theatre world (including Andrei Şerban and Robert Woodruff), but one of the more interesting productions I saw was directed by my friend and colleague, Tom Dugdale.
It was a Hungarian-language Death of a Salesman. As I made my way towards my seat, I ran into the company's Associate Artistic Director, András Visky. "This is one of your sacred texts," he told me with a huge grin on his face, "You probably know it by heart."
He's right, of course, about Salesman being a sacred text for Americans, but "know it by heart"? No. For me, Death of a Salesman has always been sacred like the Sunday morning Church services I went to as a kid. I'd go because I was expected to, because I was told it was good for me; and there were always a few genuine moments of awe, but mostly I'd slog through and try not to look bored. However, I settled in and hoped for the best.
I was curious to see how a group of actors who didn't grow up with "The Method" or Lee Strasberg's flawed ideas about "How to act American Realism" would handle Arthur Miller. I must say, I was not disappointed in the least. What I experienced over the next two hours (THAT'S RIGHT! 2 hours!) was the most honest and affecting Death of a Salesman I have ever seen (and I have seen quite a few).
The play begins with the entire cast onstage (as themselves) with guitars and tambories singing a song of America. This utterly playful and unguarded moment sets the tone for everything that follows. As the actors exit, only Biff and Happy (Ferenc Sinkó and Balázs Bodolai respectively) are left on the bare stage; Fighting with towels, brushing their teeth, and rinsing their mouth out with beer.
There is a lightness and joy here. Unlike most of the American Salesmen I have seen, these characters don't seem to know the outcome of the play. When the tragedy does arise, it is without the sturm und drang of actors who are aware that they are playing