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'Salesman' Speaks to the American Experience

Henri-Cartier-Bresson, 1961

In the pantheon of Great American Playwrights, there is never any question that Arthur Miller holds a vital place. His contributions to theatre include All My Sons, The Crucible, A View from the Bridge, and his best-known work, Death of a Salesman.

Miller wrote the entire first act of Salesman in less than a day. He was finished with the whole thing in six weeks. Death of a Salesman opened on Broadway in 1949 under the direction of Elia Kazan. It won Miller a Pulitzer Prize, all six Tony awards for which it was nominated, and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award. It was the high point of Miller's career; while The Crucible was a critical and commercial success, it did not match its predecessor for awards. About his work, Miller said “The structure of a play is always the story of how the birds came home to roost.” He died February 10, 2005, on the 56th anniversary of the Broadway premiere of Death of a Salesman. He was 89.

Plays that last are those that continue to resonate with the culture because they root eternal struggles in the smaller, more specific everyday-ness of life. Death of a Salesman speaks particularly to the American experience, even now, 67 years after its debut. You can see it onstage at Wichita Community Theatre, from January 27 through February 7.

Sanda Moore Coleman received an MFA in creative writing from Wichita State University in 1991. Since then, she has been the arts and community editor for The Martha's Vineyard Times, a teaching fellow at Harvard University, and an assistant editor at Image. In 2011, she received the Maureen Egan Writers Exchange prize for fiction from Poets & Writers magazine. She has spent more than 30 years performing, reviewing, and writing for theatre.