By Holli Harms

Death Of A Salesman, Arthur Miller’s masterpiece, was staged in China in 1983 with Miller as the director. Unable to speak Mandarin, Miller was in need of a translator and found in the young university professor, Shen Huihui, not only a translator of language but of culture, life, and the art of storytelling. Salesman之死, based on Miller’s memoir, Salesman in Beijing, is about the differences between a communist country and an American tragedy, and the struggle of the actors to understand the story of a salesman, a concept that was foreign to them. The salesman did not exist in China. That individual who wakes every day in a new place with no comrade, no friend, and with his hustle tries to convince, most often the wife, the lady of the house, to purchase what he is holding in his hand. He is there with sunshine on his back and stars in his smile ready to show her how the magic creation in his hands will save time and make life better.

It is the hope, with every door-after-door doorbell chimed, most often closed, politely and sometimes not so politely, in your face that slowly clawed its way through a soul. Shutting you off from humanity and eventually your own belief in self.

The Chinese performers had no understanding of this ghost story of life. Nor did they understand the form of theater that was Chekhovian reality, and did not showcase an over-dramatic, operatic movement and emotional display that was the essence of Chinese theater. Death of a Salesman is not a light, bouncing evening at the theater, and with a running time of 3 hours, it is an epic story of the loss of an individual.

The Chinese production in rehearsals running four plus hours. Long drawn-out silences, words delivered with each syllable exaggerated, pauses large enough to run trains through, were all part of this marathon of a show. It was the collaboration of Miller and his translator Huibui that changed that and created a production in China of not only a new story but a way of telling that story.

Yangtze Theater has created that epic tale into a remarkable and hilarious bilingual production of the masterpiece Death of A Salesman and that momentous Asian production.  Salesman之死 moves at the speed of lightning flowing from Mandarin to English – English to Mandarin with subtitles on all three sides of this thrust stage production. This 85-minute time travel of space and language is set in the rehearsal process delving into the discovery of language and meaning, culture conflict, and actor strife bumping into directorial desire. Language is the oxygen of life and here it is the very breath of life of a story weighted with cultural discrepancies and emotional differences.

The all-female cast is subtle perfection. The delicate frustration and undeniable hard work of translation and culture that the original cast of Miller’s Americana invasion of the Chinese theatrical process is so wonderfully documented and displayed in this production and honors both Chinese and American artistry.

The play is a tribute to the efforts of that original production and to Huihui and her life-changing time with Miller.

Yangtze Rep, in association with Gung Ho Projects the World Premiere of  Salesman之死 Written by Jeremy Tiang, Directed and Developed by Michael Leibenluft

With: Sandia Ang, Sonnie Brown, Julia Gu, Claire Hsu, Lydia Jialu Li, and Jo Mei.

Creative |Team: Chika Shimizu (scenic designer), Karen Boyer (costume designer), Daisy Long (lighting designer), Kai-Luen Liang and Da Xu (co-sound designers), Cinthia Chen (projection designer), Kevin Jinghong Zhu (production stage manager), Tianding He (associate director), Annie Jin Wang (dramaturg), Cynthia Yiru Hu (assistant stage manager), and Yining Cao (producing associate).

Eighteen performances of Salesman之死 will take place October 10–28, 2023 at the Connelly Theater, located at 220 E 4th St in Manhattan.

Salesman之死 is performed in English and Mandarin with corresponding subtitles in both languages.

The performance schedule is Mondays and Wednesdays–Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm & 8pm, and Sundays at 4pm with additional performances on October 10 at 8pm and October 25 at 2pm and with no performances on October 13 and 18. The closing performance on October 28 will take place at 1pm.

Running Time: 100 minutes with no intermission

Tickets, which start at $35, can be purchased HERE.