Vance Valencia and Christine Avila in a scene from 'Death of a Salesman' at Casa 0101 in Boyle Heights. Photo by Rudy Torres

As someone who had never seen a play and had never shown interest in one before, my expectations were low when I went to see “Death of Salesman” at Casa 0101 recently. Fortunately, a new production of the Arthur Miller classic at the Boyle Heights playhouse elevated my initial skepticism and defied my minimal expectations.  

Written in 1949 and set in Brooklyn, New York, the play is centered around a struggling businessman and his family’s collapse under the United States’ failed capitalistic system. Set in post-World War II and The Great Depression, an economic struggle is at the root of the challenges the characters face (not to mention a touch of normalized infidelity).  

Vance Valencia as Willy Loman in ‘Death of a Salesman’ at Casa 0101 in Boyle Heights. Photo by Rudy Torres

Those characters, members of a white family in the early/mid-20th century, are meant to model the classic suburban American home. The family is composed of the businessman and head of the family (William “Willy” Loman), the stay-at-home loving wife (Linda), the star football player turned high school dropout son (Biff), and the overshadowed, philandering younger son (Happy).

For the local production, which continues through July 16, the characters are played by an all-Latino cast. While the newly added diversity to the cast does not change the plot, it helps the story resonate in today’s Boyle Heights.

Many of the play’s themes hit close to home. The intergenerational trauma displayed is still as relevant today as it was 74 years ago. The overworked parents who devoted their lives’ work to a single company or field with little pay are often part of Latino families, even today. Even the division in family dynamics because of adultery is prevalent and common in the Latino community. 

Adam Hollick (Happy) and Eddie Diaz (Biff) in ‘Death of a Salesman’ at Casa 0101 in Boyle Heights. Photo by Rudy Torres

The play starts with a melancholic ambiance that shows us the hardships of Williams’s late career. We see him go through a mourning process of letting go of the job that he was once devoted to. In coming to terms with his loss of identity, he begins experiencing flashbacks to prime moments in his career and family life. 

Those pivotal moments in his life show us his tight-knit relationship with his sons, an extramarital affair that caused the rift in his family, and the aspirations he once had. Yet, once those memories pass, we are presented with his current-day self that has given up and is attempting to end his own life.

‘Death of a Salesman’ plays through July 16 at Casa 0101. Photo by Rudy Torres

Possibly the most emotional scene in the play was toward the end where the son Biff breaks down in front of his whole family. After years of pressure and failed careers that led to a strained relationship with his father, he reveals how much of a failure he considers himself. He makes the bold statement that they’re all “a dime a dozen” and that none of them have ever been anything out of the ordinary. In tears and yearning for his parent’s approval, Biff is a reflection of many “first-generation” kids. 

It is critical to understand the ruptured relationships created with a parent as you grow older and become more opinionated. The need for your parent’s love and support despite no longer being a child is a struggle in any household, and seeing it in a classic theater piece gives validity to those complex emotions. 

“Death of a Salesman” continues Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m., through July 16. Tickets are $30 per person for General Admission and $25 per person for Boyle Heights residents. Contact CASA 0101 Theater Box Office at 323-263-7684 or for purchase.

Valeria Macias was born and raised in the city of South Gate, CA. She is now a student at the University of Southern California where she is pursuing a journalism degree focusing on politics and urban...

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