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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