by Ann Greer
Sure, Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” is Willy Loman’s story, it’s right there in the title. But what about Biff, the golden boy elder son who ends up being a cowboy instead of a college graduate and professional man?
Thomas Keegan, who portrays Biff in Ford’s Theatre’s current production, has thought a lot about it. He beautifully imbues Biff with all the conflicting emotions that the script calls for.
“The play is about America, and about individual identity. So much is wrapped up in the identity Biff was assigned by Willy. Biff is trying to find his own identity, and it doesn’t come close to what Willy’s dream for him is,” Keegan says.
Thomas Keegan (Biff) and Craig Wallace (Willy Loman)
“Death of a Salesman” is such a classic of American theater that I felt sure that I had seen it. When the performance began, I realized I had not. But I knew the story of the salesman Willy Loman (played by the talented Craig Wallace), a man in his 60s who has had such dreams for himself and his sons, but who spirals tragically downward. He bullies his wife Linda (Kimberly Schraf), mistreats his loyal friend Charley (Michael Russotto), and damages both Biff and his younger son Happy (Danny Gavigan).
Craig Wallace (Willy Loman), Kimberly Schraf (Linda),
Danny Gavigan (Happy) and Thomas Keegan (Biff)
Keegan feels that the American Dream encompasses both creating something to pass on to posterity, and the ability to reject it. He says that believing one is better than the other is Willy’s downfall.
“In a funny way, Willie taught Biff to be the person he is. They were best friends, until Biff discovers Willy with another woman. That kills the phony dream, and Biff’s hero,” he adds.
Kimberly Schraf (Linda), Danny Gavigan (Happy),
Craig Wallace (Willy Loman) and Thomas Keegan (Biff)
When asked to speculate on what happens to Biff after the action of the play, Keegan has a ready response.
“He goes back to where he can see the sky; he wants to watch nature unfold before him. He has no wife and children in his future, but he’s content, he has what he’s looking for,” he says.
Thomas Keegan (Biff), Kimberly Schraf (Linda), Craig Wallace (Willy Loman),
Danny Gavigan (Happy) and Frederick Strother (Ben)
Keegan, at 34, is two years older than the character of Biff. He admits to having had issues with his own father, and is the father of a three-year-old son.
“We’ll see how all this goes for me,” he says.
“Death of a Salesman,” at Ford’s Theatre through October 22, 2017. Tickets: fords.org or 202-347-4833.
Photos by Carol Rosegg.
Ann Greer has covered culture in the DC region for The Washington Post, Capitol File magazine, and WAMU-FM, among others. She was the first online theater critic in the DC region, for AOL Digital City Washington.