Santa Clara University graduate Jeffrey Adams loves Arthur Miller’s masterpiece, Death of a Salesman. He spent much of his undergraduate studies dissecting the intricacies of the script, delving into its themes and, with each paper he wrote, discovering something new about the Tony Award-winning drama.
It makes sense that Adams, who graduated in 2010 with a degree in theater, would actively seek out roles in Miller’s timeless tale. While portraying Happy, main character Willy Loman’s youngest son at Mountain View’s Pear Avenue Theater, Adams left for graduate school at The New School of Drama in New York, but always knew he wanted to reprise the role. So, when he was told the San Jose Stage Company was producing the Pulitzer Prize winning drama, Adams did everything he could to get an audition.
“This is my favorite play of all time,” says Adams. “I love it. I not only seek out opportunities to do it, every male role in the family unit is a dream role for me. I would love to play Biff someday. I would love to play Willy down the line. It’s really a wonderful opportunity. I found out over the summer that The Stage was going to put this on … I got a text that said ‘I know you love this play and The Stage is doing it.’ So, I emailed [Artistic Director] Randy [King, who also plays Willy] and [Executive Director] Cathleen [King] months ago hoping to get an audition.”
His excitement about the script paid off, and when Death of a Salesman opened on April 1, Adams was back in the role of Happy. This time, however, he approached it differently. He studied King’s physicality and mannerisms, trying to emulate the man who would be playing his father. He wanted to portray Happy in a way to show that he was truly his father’s son and would follow in his footsteps.
The Stage, too, took a different approach to the play. Instead of performing it in a realistic way, as it’s often done, Director Kenneth Kelleher incorporated lighting to give this production an abstract feel and heighten the elements on stage.
“So much of the text is kind of dreamscape where Willy is getting lost in these memories and getting haunted by the past in the present,” says Adams, “and what Ken has done is sort of create this set as broken images of Willy’s mind which is really great and a creative take on it. Instead of walking into a house the audience walks into this abstract of Willy’s memory.”
Adams hopes the audience will find honesty in the performance and leave understanding the tragedy of it all. “I think it’s a beautiful play,” says Adams. “I think it captures elements of every human emotion and that’s something that’s hard to accomplish in a single piece of work. I think Arthur Miller does it. It has humor and tragedy and I think, ultimately, it’s about family, and maybe that’s why it’s important to me. I think it captures family dynamics in a really unique way. I think it talks about success and I think it makes you ask about what’s important to you. I think every performance should make the audience feel and make the audience walk away asking questions and I think this play does that. It’s beautiful.”
Death of a Salesman runs through April 26 at 490 South First Street in San Jose. Tickets ($55-$65) can be purchased through www.thestage.org or by calling 408-283-7142.