Каминяр Дмитрий Генаддьевич: другие произведения.

Acting and Selling in two plays

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   Dmitri Kaminiar
   28 October 2009
   ENG 375

Acting and Selling in Two Plays

   Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman and Arthur Laurents' Gypsy appear to be two very different plays: one is all about anti-theatricality and realism, the other is all about musicals and theatre. However, despite the plays' appearances, their leading characters are quite similar, as both of them are mouthpieces of theatrical liberalism, and both plays deal with theatrical liberalism similarly, as well. Still, there are important differences between them, which eventually result in two different ends for Rose and Willy Loman.
   The two plays' most obvious difference is that in Death of a Salesman the `sales' part was made overt with the `acting' was more covert, while in Gypsy the situation was reversed. However, this reversal of plot lines does not change the fact that when it comes to the act of selling and its connection to acting, both plays have very similar ideas:
   [...]But don't wear sport jacket and slacks when you see Oliver.
   BIFF No, I'll--
   WILLY A business suit, and talk as little as possible, and don't crack any jokes.
   BIFF He did like me. Always liked me.
   [...]Walk in very serious. You are not applying for a boy's job. Money is to pass. Be quiet, fine, and serious. Everybody likes a kidder, but nobody lends him money.
   WILLY And don't say "Gee." "Gee" is a boy's word. A man walking in for fifteen thousand dollars does not say "Gee!"
   (Death of a Salesman, pg. 1313)
   ROSE: [...] You're a lady--like Herbie says you are! You just parade so grand they'll think it's a favour if you even show them your knee--Louise, it's the star spot!
   Shoes! ... Well, we can use the old silver ones we borrowed from Tessie. (She takes them from her own suitcase) They'll do for this performance ... Come on. Get into `em. (As Louise does) Oh, no--your hair's wrong. You can't let it just hang like spaghetti. Put it up! Like Momma's! It's got to have class!
   (Gypsy, pg. 90)
   Rose's monologue and Willy's instructions are very similar to each other, as both are concerned with the appearance of their kids. Still Willy's instructions resemble those of a director instructing a new actor, while Rose's are more of a projection of herself onto her girls.
   When it came to appearances, old-school theatrical liberalism considered them important, an actor or an actress had to look their part as well as act. Still, what Willy, and Rose, to a lesser extent, are dealing with, is real life. In it, appearances alone are not enough, one's inner self is also important, and that is something that Willy had forgotten altogether, while in Rose's case her inner self got too tightly intertwined with that of her daughters...
   Therefore, it can be said that in case of Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller has pronounced theatrical liberalism dead - as dead as Willy Loman himself, who had envisioned his death as a highly dramatic occasion, and instead got exactly what he, as a failed salesman deserved: a very small, very private affair. In Death of a Salesman, theatrical liberalism is seen as fake and amoral as Willy himself, who cheats on his wife with another woman during the play, and who seemed to be as much of an actor as a salesman. His death, then, is a death of not an actor, but also of the entire original liberalist-theatrical school of acting that Willy's character represents.
   With Rose in Gypsy, it is different. Unlike Willy, she stands for the vaudeville theatre of the first third of the twentieth century in America, not for the tradition of theatrical liberalism as a whole. Yet, just like Willy, she is stuck in the past, and just like Willy, it costs her - first June and then Herbie. The trick here is that unlike Willy, who never really practiced what he preached (even if he was able to convince himself and his family that he did), Rose really was supporting her girls - her problem was that she was involved too much. At first, this results in Rose getting abandoned by June (and Herbie), just as Willy was eventually abandoned by Biff. Eventually, however, this means at the end of the play Rose gets a second chance to reconcile at least with Louise, if not with others. Thus, Gypsy's end is not as tragic as that of Death of the Salesman - on one hand, Rose had given up on her dream, now clearly beyond even her relentless grasp. On the other hand, though she has her family back - a decent trade-off, but in the opinion of Gypsy's playwrights, this also means that the theatrical school of acting and liberalism, often identified with vaudeville at the turn of the twentieth century, are just as dead as they are in Miller's play.
   Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that both Laurents and Miller had very similar ideas about the end of the old theatrical culture and liberalism, only in Miller's case the pessimism was more severe, and the theatrical element in his play was more repressed than the `selling' element was in Gypsy, comparison-wise. Laurents admits that the old-style theatrical liberalism is gone, and he agrees with Miller that it is a predestined thing, given the atmosphere of the 1940s, but unlike Miller, he is also sure that the theatre as a whole will live on, as burlesque, if anything.
   That, then, is the difference between Miller and Laurents' plays, despite the similarities between their characters and plot lines - the authors' take on the theatrical liberalism, their attitudes toward it. Miller's pessimism is reflected in Willy's failure as a character and a person and it ends in his death. Laurents' optimism, on the other hand, results in Rose beginning to slowly recover her family and re-invent her life. That is the main difference between the two characters, and not even the similarities of the sales pitch can truly bridge it.
   Gypsy. Screenplay by Leonard Spigelglass. Dir. Mervyn LeRoy. Perf. Rosalind Russell, Natalie Wood and Karl Malden. Warner Home Video, 2000
   Laurents, Arthur. Gypsy. New York: Theatre Communications Group, Inc., 1989. 90
   Miller, Arthur. "Death of a Salesman." The Norton Anthology: American Literature, Volume 2. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2008. 1313
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