John Underwood becomes the famous Willy Loman in the GC Theatre production of “Death of a Salesman”
by Perri Nitzberg
Senior theatre major John Underwood must make the transition from a 22-year-old living in Milledgeville in 2013 to a failed middle-aged salesman from Brooklyn in 1949 in the Georgia College Theatre Department’s major fall production, “Death of a Salesman.”
“This is the greatest challenge I have ever had as a role,” Underwood said.
He plays the main character, Willy Loman, a classic role most recently played on Broadway by Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman.
“Working with John has been amazing. He’s a very talented actor and a great guy all around. The way he embodies everything about his character is something to be admired and I honestly could not see a better Willy Loman,” T. L. Tuel said, who is the student actor playing Uncle Ben. “When we’re not on stage, he’s always willing to help anyone when they need it. Whether it’s character work, dialects, or just plain read-throughs, John is there. I admire everything about the man, especially his acting ability.”
Underwood attended high school at St. Francis in Alpharetta, where he participated in a variety of performances. Since then, he has been a vital member of the Theatre Department, playing key roles in such productions as “Hamlet” and “Doubt.”
“He pushes for what a man should be and struggles for something better in the American dream,” Underwood said of his character. “Willy is a Romantic with a capital ‘R’ as to how we see life.”
Loman’s failures are reflected in his relationships with his sons, Biff and Happy.
“Curtis Stallings, as Biff, is a sophomore and has never been in a show in his life,” Underwood said because he enjoys watching his castmate develop and become one with his character.
Underwood also enjoys watching other cast members develop into their characters with tremendous amounts of help from the play’s director, Iona Holder.
“I love working with Iona,” Underwood said, who has worked on productions with the dynamic Holder in the past. “I’ve always wanted a director that can push and push. She directs differently than anyone.”
Holder challenges her cast when it comes to reading script – making them recite the lines without giving them exact directions. The actors must create their own interpretations.
“She can spend an entire hour working on one line — we call it being ‘Iona’d,’” Underwood said. “She expects perfection and we want nothing more than to deliver.”
The lead actor holds high hopes for making this production one of the best playing the famous and intense role of Willy Loman.
“My goal is for people to walk away taking something from it. I want them to learn about themselves and learn about theatre,” Underwood said.
The performances will be in Russell Auditorium Oct. 2-5 at 8 p.m., with a matinee show on Sunday, Oct. 6, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $14 for general admission, $10 for GC faculty/staff and non-GC students, and $5 for GC students. Tickets can be purchased at gcsutickets.com. For more information, call 478-445-4226.
Lead actress Anna Fontaine takes on the role of a devoted wife married to an unsuccessful businessman
by Mallory Dean
To create the fiercely devoted wife of a failed businessman, Willy Loman, in 1949, Anna Fontaine thought of her own grandparents and the post-war period of her role as Linda Loman in “Death of a Salesman,” the classic tragedy of the American dream.
Fontaine, a senior theater major from Stockbridge, will cap her Georgia College acting career with the pivotal role in the Theatre Department’s fall production of the play.
Thinking about her grandparents when they were younger attracted Fontaine to the role of Linda.
“I thought of their relationship and relationships at that time, but even now she’s complicated because she defends Willy so much and loves him fiercely, then she also sees he’s falling apart,” Fontaine said. “We’ve been talking about how we communicate and what our reality is. In the effort to keep things hopeful, Linda glosses over the hardcore reality that we have to face.”
In Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, each character seems to have a different dream and a different approach to gaining it.
“Linda’s ‘American Dream’ is definitely tied in with [her husband] Willy’s, but ultimately I would say it is to have that home and finish that last mortgage payment and retire peacefully with Willy,” Fontaine said. “She just wanted to work hard and make it.”
The play’s director, Iona Holder, is known for being particular and detail-oriented. Holder has said she’s notorious for spending 20 minutes on a single word and 45 minutes on a sentence. Fontaine thinks Holder’s perfectionism is beneficial to the play.
“She knows so much,” Fontaine said. “I might have one perspective and she might have another, and I can see where she is coming from. She is all about supporting what is in the text and then it’s discovered that things are fundamental to the play, and it helps us with character development.”
Holder sees the same type of professionalism and dedication in Fontaine. The role of Linda Loman is not an easy one to take, but Fontaine does it completely trusting her director which allows Fontaine to trust herself.
“She is an absolute joy to direct. I know every time I ask for more emotion or volume or any changes, she is going to take the step fully. It’s an awesome feeling to see a student trust so fully in the process, and she will be a wonder to watch in performance,” Holder said. “As a senior, she’s an incredible leader, and I’m grateful she’s in the cast. Anna is the truest embodiment of class and intelligence that any woman can admire.”
“Death of a Salesman” is a powerful play because the subject matter and themes seem current in today’s society, with many Americans feeling the same pressures that Willy experienced.
“I think something to ponder after the play is questioning what is that ‘American Dream’?” Fontaine said. “And is it something you want? Once you achieve it, what do you do now? We tie so much to the physical and financial, but does that bring happiness or more problems?”
Fontaine is graduating in December after being a mainstay in the Theatre Department since her freshman year, when she was cast in “Dog Sees God.”
She can be seen portraying Linda Loman in “Death of a Salesman” Oct. 2-6 in Russell Auditorium.