Disillusionment of the American Dream will play out again this weekend as Rebel Stages wraps its production of “Death of a Salesman” at Shawnee Playhouse, Shawnee-on-Delaware.


Set during the post-World War II era, Arthur Miller’s classic play — which premiered on Broadway in 1949, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and six Tony Awards — centers around the dysfunctional Loman family. Patriarch William “Willy,” a 63-year-old traveling salesman from Brooklyn, has misguided values about success and the American Dream.


Linda, Willy’s loyal and loving wife, supports her husband, despite his instability, self-delusion and unrealistic hopes for the future. Willy wants eldest son Biff to become a businessman, though Biff would rather work as a farmhand. Youngest son Happy, living in Biff’s shadow most of his life, tries to support his family.


“Death of a Salesman” has enjoyed four Broadway revivals, with three — 1984, 1999 and 2012 — snagging the Tony for Best Revival, among other accolades. A 1951 film adaptation scored numerous Golden Globe wins and Oscar nominations, with Miller’s classic receiving multiple small-screen treatments.


Beth Kelley directs the Rebel Stages production, which stars Darren Fouse and Maryjane Baer as Willy and Linda, respectively. Max Kubiak and John Lauri portray Biff and Happy, with Roy Wilbur as Charley, the Lomans’ neighbor.


The cast also features: Benjamin Rickards as Bernard, Dan Eash as Uncle Ben, Lizzy Mahon-Spinelli as The Woman, Ian Sallit as Howard, Amy Cramer as Jenny, Jules Gindraux as Stanley, Brenna Fulk as Miss Forsythe and Abigail Witt as Letta. Carina Cohen serves as assistant director/production stage manager, with Amanda Hubard as stage manager.


Kelley, a Milford resident who started her 35-year theater career on stage, read “Death of a Salesman” as a teen. “I have seen the most recent icons in the role of Willy. Brian Dennehy, once in London and then in New York, and most recently, Phillip Seymour Hoffman.” The latter, Kelley added, was her favorite staged production.


In directing the play, “working long-distance from my home base has been the most difficult challenge” for Kelley, an acting teacher and founder, producer/director of the Side of the Road theater company. Another challenge comes with her realization that “the older I get, the less young actors understand non-techno events. For example, ‘taking the pipe’ — a very important part of Willy’s resolve.”


Kelley, noting the play’s ever-timely quality, thinks Biff will resonate with younger viewers, though “I understand Willy more now as I am his age.”


Flashbacks and memories, Kelley explained, play a vital role in the play, particularly with its main character. “Willie is suffering from what appears to be dementia or Lewy body disease. When the going gets tough in the present time, Willie slides into memories. As memories go, they probably are not trustworthy or accurate.”


‘Willy’ and ‘Linda’


Fouse, also a Milford resident, has performed in local productions for the past 20 years. The actor read “Death of a Salesman” in his 20s, “before seeing the movie starring Dustin Hoffman. Of course at the time, I was concentrating more on the roles of Biff and Happy. So being asked to portray Willy was another proof of how time truly flies.”


Willy, Fouse said, “is probably one of the most complex roles in American history, which is why so many great actors want to take on this task. Kind of a bucket list. So I am grateful for this opportunity and scared to death at the same time.”


In preparing to play Willy, “I’m working very hard to bring this amazing character to life with some believability,” Fouse said. “Being a believable actor is the understanding of your words and actions, no matter what your choices are.


“So much happening in Willy’s mind,” he continued, “on top of what is going on in the present, makes for a whole lot of choices. And, you can’t just scream the entire show, though you my feel that you could. That’s what makes this role so challenging, and I pray that I can make some sense of it all, or maybe non sense.”


Though the play debuted 71 years ago, Fouse believes ages will relate to Willy and the material. A group of younger viewers will experience the play when Rebel Stages presents a show for high school students on Friday.


“Except for some of the outdated vocabulary, and the lack of TVs, computers and cell phones,” Fouse said, “I know they will be drawn in, and relate things to their own lives, in these very interesting times we live.”


Fouse, who performs dramatic readings of Edgar Allen Poe every Halloween at Grey Towers National Historic Site, mentioned one particular moment in “Death of a Salesman” as a favorite.


“I enjoy my scene with Howard, my young unappreciating boss, as I explain why I became a salesman, one of the rare lucid moments for Willy. Just a great piece of literature.”


Baer, a 30-plus-year theater veteran and current vice president of the Pocono Mountains Music Festival board, was introduced to “Death of a Salesman” in high school. “I'm sure I really didn't understand it at the time. But, as I became more involved in theater and more exposed to Arthur Miller's work, I understood the richness of the story and characters.”


The actress, who grew up in New York and lives in Cresco, considers Linda “one of the most coveted female roles in American theater. The character is very complex and layered. She loves Willy so much and protects him, yet at the same time, she allows herself to get caught up in his dreams.”


Baer thinks Linda “will resonate with contemporary audiences in that they will see a woman who is fighting for her family. Willy has been on the road for almost all of their married life, and it’s been left to Linda to raise the boys, take care of the home, scrimp and save to pay bills, etc., much like single parents and caretakers do today.”


In preparing for her role, Baer’s come across some challenges. “Willy is often disrespectful to Linda. I've really had to think how a woman in the 1930s and 1940s would deal with that. It's very different from today. Linda is very constrained by the society she lives in.”


Two moments in the play, Baer said, “are so intimate and moving — the very end of Act 1 and Willy/Linda's ‘goodbye’ at the end of Act 2. I love how Darren and I connect in those. And, the scene with Biff and Happy in which Linda admonishes their behavior towards their father and says ‘attention must be paid’ is challenging and gratifying.”


When audiences watch “Death of a Salesman,” Fouse wants them to feel “hope. Feeling saddened by the story that just unfolded, yet suddenly happy to be who they are.”


Baer, meanwhile, hopes viewers “recognize that this is, in many ways, a love story — Willy and Linda, Willy and the boys. The play has endured because we all still believe in the American Dream and will do whatever it takes to get it.”


Director Kelley believes the play’s endurance “will remain until people change their views of what is valuable in the world. Hopefully, audiences take away the serious flaw of the ‘American Dream.’”