June 15, 2009

Memory and Flashback Scenes in Death of a Salesman

Part Two of Director's Notes

In all of the memory scenes Willy, unlike the other characters, never actually leaves the present, but re-experiences the past. In effect, he revisits the pivotal moments in his life and tries to make sense of them. Subconsciously, however, he already knows what has and what will happen.

Example: In Act ll when he is in the hotel room with the woman and hears the knocking, he knows that if he opens the door it will be disastrous, but is so lost in the memory he cannot comprehend why. The memory scenes are subjective and emotional; a pure visualization of Willy’s feelings and thoughts. Thus, they are fragmented, elliptical and epitomized. He will sometimes remember four or five separate events within one sequence.

The set must be light, minimal and portable. There should be as much free and open space as possible. The confines of the home should be created primarily by the lights, not by actual, permanent walls. We should be able to expand and retract easily and naturally. When his brother Ben enters, for example, we must go from the confines of the kitchen to the open space of Alaska, Africa and the prairies.

Rarely will there be a blackout. Lights will frequently overlap or cross-fade. The action must never stop. Willy’s mind is on a collision course and the lights must reflect this. The set and lights must serve Willy’s mind, which is constantly changing, striving, searching.

There can come a point in a man’s life when it is too late. After this point is reached the truth, and not delusion, becomes the killer. Contrary to most opinion, Willy does achieve self-awareness, and this very awareness is something he is unable to come to terms with. He cannot live with the reality and so hangs on to the delusion and dies with it.

Death of a Salesman is a tragedy of the first order. Consider: a theme of epic importance; the strength, immensity and uncompromising nature of Willy’s struggle; his fatal flaw; his intensity, passion, love, devotion and total single-mindedness; his ultimate destruction; Biff’s ultimate self-awareness. And finally, the fact that true tragedy must have the potential for creating self-awareness in the audience. From this will follow a purging of the soul. Death of a Salesman most definitely creates this self-awareness.

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