Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman was the first drama to win all three prestigious awards: the Tony Award, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle and the Pulitzer Prize. It`s still regarded as one of the best-written plays of the 20th century.

Willy Loman is an aging salesman who is tired of never-ending appointments with customers. Instead of being transferred to a secure position in New York as he desires, he is fired. He is dismissed by a man who is a generation younger and Willy remembers him as a child. Willy’s dream collapses, the dream which he has dreamed of his whole life. A dream of a secure existence without a mortgage or loan: “Can’t we ever have something that goes wrong later, before we pay it back?”
His dream probably collapses because he is not able to admit that he cannot achieve it. So he feigns and then lies. He lies to his family and also to himself. So much so that he doesn’t even accept a job offer from his successful neighbor. His pride is called: I want to believe my dream. In the end, Willy realizes that he is worth more dead than alive. He commits suicide and his family gets his life insurance. Almost no one comes to the funeral…

The drama was written in 1949 and was first staged in the Czech Republic in 1959, during the time of socialism, when the audience couldn’t fully understand the message of the play. No one had a mortgage at that time, and since the state was the only employer, everyone was obliged to work and had the certainty that he would receive his salary every month. Both are economic nonsense and it certainly did not mean that people didn’t have housing problems, but they had a certain, basic livelihood.

However, the play at Prague’s National Theater was a huge success. Partly because the message of the play is valid regardless of whether the viewer knows such experience from his life or not. But mainly because, the Death of a Salesman in Prague in 1959 had the ideal production team, and above all the main character, Karel Höger. Under hardly believable circumstances, Karel Höger, one of the best Czech actors, was supposed to play Hamlet at the National Theatre (A character that definitely couldn’t be refused) but declined the role, not because he did not believe in himself, he would certainly be a great Hamlet, but because in this phase of his acting career he had everything so easy and wanted to face a really difficult task.

At the time it was a theatrical masterpiece, remembered by audience members 60 years after the premiere. The applause after the performance was never-ending and many spectators were so impressed that they cried and could not even get up and go to the dressing room for a coat.

The latest Willy Loman on the Czech stages is Miroslav Donutil, and his performance is very good as well. Today the performance is enriched by another level for the viewer, about a quarter of the population is paying off their mortgage, so they already know what it is like to be under the pressure of large payments. There is also abnormally high pressure in society to place  value on people and their lives based on their money and property.

Theatre (with the exception of pantomime and other forms of a non-verbal theatre) is tied to language, but theatrical photography is art without borders. In the gallery, you will find photos from both mentioned performances. Short videos can show at least some emotion from them.

Karel Höger and Bohuš Záhorský, 1959
Miroslav Donutil 2019

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