January 30, 2003
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Tony Dallas is directing ‘Death of a Salesman,’ which is now playing at the Human Race Theater in Dayton.

Local residents collaborate with Dayton’s Human Race Theater—
Exploring America’s place in world

Local director and playwright Tony Dallas wants his plays to make people feel uncomfortable. Productions of Arthur Miller’s American classic Death of a Salesman have never had trouble accomplishing that end on the individual level. But collective discomfort is something Dallas is trying to address in his latest work.

Dallas never wanted to tackle the play about a traveling salesman who feels he’s failed in his role as the ideal American male.

“If I see a good production of a play I have no desire to do the play,” he said.

Dallas grew up watching his father, Meredith Dallas, play the part of Willy Loman with “vibrant and vibrating energy.”

“I was 10 when I saw it, but it’s still very clear in my head,” Tony said. “All of my mentoring came from watching him, and half my experience in directing was to try to rip that voice from my head.”

Now Dallas is directing Death of a Salesman through Sunday, Feb. 16, at the Human Race Theater in Dayton.

In the fall of 2001 Dallas traveled to Chile on an artist exchange program through the Ohio Arts Council and Chile’s Ministry of Education. While in Chile he heard many stories of the relatively safe outlet the theater provided for political dissidents during the dictatorship of American-backed Augusto Pinochet in the 1970s and ’80s. Dallas attended one production depicting the events of that period, after which the crowd began to cheer when someone on stage referred to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Dallas was struck both by the intense politicization of Chilean theater and by the negative way America and American capitalism was depicted.

“I became aware of what globalization means and the selling of American goods abroad,” Dallas said.

It also made him think about how unpolitical theater in America is. Dallas said that he was bored with the same old Broadway hits playing in regional theaters throughout the country. The theater should challenge, raise questions, foment public introspection, he said. But, he said, funding for the National Endowment for the Arts is so small that theaters have to rely on catering to their audiences and corporate subsidies to survive.

Dallas said that he was disappointed when he saw a recent production of Death of a Salesman that made the play seem old, a play about domestic problems and how a son sees his father.

“The theater tends to get so small in its realism,” he said.

“I used to think that within our culture the original play was Cain and Abel, how are we to each other,” Dallas said. “But now I’m starting to think it’s Abraham and Isaac, where the play is to be the sacrificial lamb.”

In his current production of Death of a Salesman, Dallas, who is 51, said that he hopes to emphasize, throu gh the story of an American family, a sense of what he calls the country’s self-centered arrogance and isolationist attitude. One idea he had was to bring all the players on stage to act as their own reflexive audience. It was an idea his father used when he directed an early production of The Crucible at the time of the McCarthy hearings.

Meredith wrote to Arthur Miller about his idea, and Miller wrote back to him on May 2, 1956: “Your ideas seem fine, quite as I would have the play done.”

“It feels a little bit like a seal of approval,” Tony said, setting his father’s letter aside.

Local musician Tucki Bailey has composed an original score for the production, with a flute solo harkening back to the childhood Willy keeps trying to remember. Local actors Bruce Cromer and Howard Shook will play the parts of Biff, Willie’s son, and Bernard, a neighbor, respectively. The production also includes the recorded voices of local actors Adam Zaremsky and Liana Rothman.


—Lauren Heaton