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New Orleans actor Wendell Pierce bringing iconic "Death of a Salesman" to Broadway

Pierce’s portrayal of the protagonist Willy Loman puts a new spin on the Arthur Miller classic story.

NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans actor Wendell Pierce is bringing Death of a Salesman to Broadway.

The awarding winning stage show is regarded by many critics as one of the greatest plays of the 20th century.

Pierce’s portrayal of the protagonist Willy Loman puts a new spin on the Arthur Miller classic story.

“This definitely is a role of a lifetime,” Pierce told WWL-TV. “This will be the highwater of my career.”

That’s saying a lot when you consider Pierce’s long and successful career with memorable roles in projects such as the The Wire, Treme, Suits, Chicago PD, and the Jack Ryan series.

This will be his fourth trip to Broadway.

“It’s very exciting to not only be doing the role, I did it in London in the West End and now to be bringing it to America on Broadway is just going to be historic,” Pierce said.

 Historic, because this production is told from the perspective of a Black family living in a predominantly white world.

“The play is about how the American Dream can be a failure for so many people.” Pierce said. “You put that through the lens of the African American experience, and you realize how even more destructive it can be.”

The play is set in 1940s New York.

It’s about a travelling salesman who is disappointed with his life and appears to be slipping into senility.

The play’s central themes of self-identity, unrealistic expectations, and wealth out of reach are just as relevant today, as they were 70 years ago when the drama first hit Broadway.

Pierce says looking at Death of a Salesman from an African American point of view, just adds to the challenges written into the play.

“Of hopelessness, denial, a loss of vision, a loss of their own individuality and then you add that to discrimination, oppression, racial oppression, it adds all of these different variables that teach us the lesson of how a person’s life can be destroyed, and a psyche can be destroyed by this ugly side of human nature.

He predicts the play’s revival will resonate with a wide audience.

“It speaks over time. It speaks over gender. It speaks over race. It speaks over locale. If it’s truthful and it speaks to the human condition, the authenticity of it will speak to every person’s heart.”

Pierce says Willy Loman has a few things in common with another one of his famous characters, near and dear to New Orleans, Antoine Batiste from HBO’s hit series Treme.

“How is Willy Loman like Antoine Batiste? A man with a great desire and vision, who doesn’t always have the facility to get there. Antoine had the hope that Willy loses. Willy had it at one point, but Willy loses it.”

The particulars are still being worked out, but Pierce’s Death of Salesman is now expected to reach Broadway this fall.

Pierce also appeared on Broadway in the Boys of Winter, Serious Money, and Radio Gulf.

He won a Tony Award for best play, as producer of Clybourne Park in 2012.

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