Drawing: Wendell Pierce in Death of a Salesman

Autographed drawing of Wendell Pierce in Death of a Salesman at The Young Vic Theatre

With over 30 films, 50 TV shows and dozens of theatre productions to his name, distinguished American actor Wendell Pierce makes his London stage debut as the tragic anti-hero Willy Loman in the reimagined revival of Arthur Miller’s 1949 Pulitzer Prize-winning masterwork DEATH OF A SALESMAN at the Young Vic, co-directed by Marianne Elliot and her long-term associate Miranda Cromwell.

It’s the story of an ageing salesman, who has invested so much time in the American dream he regards failure as a mortal sin. The play addresses the loss of identity and a man’s inability to accept changes within himself and society. To freshen the notion of the American dream as a nightmare and that much further away, the lower middle class Loman family are African-American, living a precarious existence in 1940’s Brooklyn. “We’re not changing a word (of the text) but it is amazing how you hear it differently,” said Marianne.

The New Orleans-born and bred Wendell, who plays Willy opposite the magnificent Sharon D. Clarke said it was ‘a honour and a milestone’. In his interview with Metro he commented, “This is not ‘colour blind’ casting, but ‘very specific casting’, that heightens the sense of the obstacles that are placed in front of Willy, his wife Linda and his sons Biff and Happy. Particular moments sting in new ways.”

It’s not the first staging of the play to shift ethnicity. Charles S. Dutton played Willy in 2009 at Yale Repertory and Don Warrington in the Manchester production last year. TimeOut’s Andrzej Lukowski writes, “This brilliantly reimagined take on the Arthur Miller classic is powered by a phenomenal black-led cast…that unquestionably finds new depths to the play.” In his Guardian review, Michael Billington said, “We’ve seen many good productions of DEATH OF A SALESMAN over the years, this one, mixing the socially specific and the dreamily phantasmagoric depicts the duality at the heart of Miller’s memory-play with exceptional clarity,” The sold-out production has been extended by two weeks.

Wendell will be familiar to screen viewers as the high-powered attorney Robert Zane in SUITS, detective Bunk Moreland in THE WIRE and trombonist Antoine Batiste in TREME on television and in films such as MALCOLM X and SELMA. He also produced the Broadway production of CLYBOURNE PARK which collected four Tony nominations, winning Best New Play.

Wendell signed this rehearsal sketch when he arrived for a Saturday matinee at the Young Vic a couple of weeks ago.

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Drawing: Andrew Garfield in Death of a Salesman

Andrew Garfield

Characters in conflict make great drawing subjects and Andrew Garfield was reported to have said, “I’m drawn to conflicted characters,” in the New York Times, while performing the role of Biff Loman in Mike Nichol’s revival of Arthur Miller’s modern classic Death of A Salesman at the Barrymore Theatre on New York’s Great White Way in 2012.

And you don’t get a more tortured soul and role than the character of Biff Loman, the eldest son of the delusional salesman Willy Loman, played by the late, great, Philip Seymour Hoffman.

“It’s a wrenching performance, exquisitely calibrated… and the final confrontation, in which the tarnished golden boy tries with desperate futility to make Willy face reality is so devastating that it’s not uncommon to hear sobs in the theatre,” wrote David Rooney in the New York Times. It was a performance that earned Andrew a Tony Award nomination.

Born in Los Angeles but raised in England, Andrew’s short but already impressive stage and screen career had its international breakthrough in 2010 with David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant chronicle of the birth of Facebook, The Social Network, as Eduardo Saverin the most ethical of the operation who was shut out by his co-founders . It was a role that earned him multiple awards attention including Golden Glboe and BAFTA nomination and it was the performance that persuaded Mike Nicols to cast him as Biff, stating “What you see is Andrew’s enormous emotional equipment.”

Sending stuff for signing to Broadway theatres is always a hit and miss affair, so I planned to get Andrew to sign this sketch of him as Biff at the Gala screening of The Amazing Spiderman at London’s Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square at the end of June 2012, after he completed his Salesman run.

Positioning myself at the drop-off point allowed me to get Andrew early as he got out of the car and came directly over to us before the PAs  tend to lead the talent away to do press.

Andrew usually has a rapid, minimal sig-even more than this one, so I was very pleased he stopped for a chat and to get this dedication and a more ‘extended’ graph, after which the pushy PA reminded him of the time constraints, to which he retorted, “I’m already using my abbreviated autograph!’ but accelerated his walk after that and his along with his sig.