The Loman Empire: The Sitcom – An unauthorised satire of Death of a Salesman.
Words - Rowan Mahoney Photos - Courtesy of Melbourne Fringe Festival
Settling into our seats at the Northcote Town Hall, admiring the very large ‘APPLAUSE’ and ‘ON AIR’ signs suspended cheerfully in pastel colours, it suddenly occurred to me that it had been over 10 years since I’d seen any sort of adaptation of Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Death of a Salesman. I wondered if an unauthorised satire in the form of a canned-laughter sitcom was the best way to reintroduce myself.
“Probably not, bitch, that’s why it’s called research,” said Internal Rowan. “Christ, get your shit together.”
For those of you with a similarly harsh internal dialogue, it breaks down like this: A father and life-long businessman Willy Loman, tired and disappointed in his sons and life in general, has recently had a car accident. His wife wants him to stop travelling so much, he still wants to ‘make it’ in his industry before he dies and his sons don’t want much of anything. Everyone has a façade and everyone sees through them in turn. Fertile ground for a satire, to be sure.
And for the most part, this show delivers- before ‘taping’ begins, Happy (played with perfect, obnoxious, American verve by Danny McGinlay) is roaming through the aisles, humble-bragging whilst dolling out signatures in a 12-gallon hat. The crowd warm-up guy (Lachlan Millsom) is smarmy and droll in turn, encouraging us to ‘BOO’ and ‘AWW’ throughout the show and introducing us to the actors ‘out of character’- Linda, played with charm and ease by Lana Schwarz, is the worst kind of animal rights’ activist, it turns out, and her calling the one audience member who didn’t know what PETA was an “animal murderer” was a take-home moment for yours truly. The actor who plays favoured son Biff is apparently a Ukranian stumblebum replete with gold chains and ADIDAS tracksuit. Oh yeah, and John Jarratt’s in a kimono.
I need to take a moment here to talk about Jon Jarratt. From what I’ve read, the show’s director Damien Callinan usually plays Loman’s neighbor- and to be honest, apart from the ‘out-of-character’ pottering around that all the actors’ engage in he’s really only in one scene- but Jarratt’s take on neighbor Charley was easily the highlight of the night. His chemistry with show lead Russell Fletcher was such that a fluffed line was easily turned into the biggest laugh of the night, and watching him shuffle off stage with a stolen sandwich signaled the only applause that wasn’t prompted first. The actors do a fantastic job of engaging the audience and making us feel as though we really are taping an episode. Clocking in at just under an hour, the dialogue runs fast and loose, and the saccharine-sweet tone of US sitcoms and commercials gets skewered and then some. There are plenty of pop culture references and tongue-in-cheek homages to the source material (Fletcher opening every scene by subtly trying to kill himself is really something to behold), but if you’re looking for a developed meditation on Miller’s source material you’ve come to the wrong place. There’s a lot of information to be dealt with, most of which feels cherry-picked, and as such the improvisational tone can really work for or against the production, depending on the audience. And yes, I must admit that a fleeting amount of background knowledge is required in order to truly appreciate this unique adaptation. The audience I was with adored it, however, and even if you’re going in blind you’ll be guaranteed at least five good guffaws. So if you never thought you’d see an ad for upcoming reality show, Farmer Wants a Yeti, or that the name Sebastian could be used as a punchline, then this is the Fringe show for you.
Written by - Danny McGinlay
Show - Death of a Salesman: The Sitcom
Location - Northcote Town Hall
Dates - 17 to 28 September @ 8:15pm, Sundays @ 7:15pm