Bath school production breathes new life into 'Death of a Salesman'

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BATH — For Kevin O’Leary, “Death of a Salesman” isn’t just a play, but rather a doorway into one man’s image of the American dream, its strengths and flaws alike.

Audience members will have a chance to make their own assessments of the piece and its author, Arthur Miller, when it bows at Morse High School May 15-17.

“I am what I am and do what I do and believe what I believe because of Arthur Miller,” O’Leary, an English and drama teacher at the school, states in his director’s notes of the 1949 production. “I preach what I preach, decry what I decry, yearn for what I yearn because of Arthur Miller. He is often the reason I get out of bed; he is always the reason I keep going.

“He is the greatest American playwright we’ve ever produced. He is ridiculously gifted and remarkably ?awed,” O’Leary adds. “He represents everything good about my country and everything that makes me want to puke. He writes both sides of the argument with equal parts finesse and certitude.”

The story of failing salesman Willy Loman, which costs $5 for students and seniors and $10 for adults, stars senior Nathanial Barter as Loman, senior Emilee Love as Linda Loman, senior valedictorian Kyle Hietala as Biff Loman and 2012 alumni Dylan Withers as Happy Loman.

“I really have an extraordinary cast,” said O’Leary, who is directing the play for the first time.

The old adage that young people shouldn’t be allowed to do the great works is “bunk,” he said, noting that his cast really gets the play.

“I would put this ‘Salesman’ up against any ‘Salesman,'” O’Leary said. “These kids really have the chops.”

Miller – known for headline-grabbing events like earning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, testifying before the U.S. House Committee on Un-American Activities, and marrying Marilyn Monroe – ironically died in 2005 on the same day “Death of a Salesman” premiered 56 years prior: Feb. 10.

“We really need Miller, especially now … because we need people to be aware of what personal dignity is; we need people to be aware that tragedy is not what people think it is,” O’Leary said. “Tragedy is the most exalted of our art forms … (and) as Miller said, joy must be present in a tragedy.

“If we don’t see Willy’s joy,” O’Leary added, “we don’t understand his fall.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.