Saturday, August 30, 2014

Cobb vs. Hoffman

Now a lot of this is mainly my opinion on the performances themselves and how I think the character should be portrayed but I'm curious to see how people feel.  Vanessa brought up a good point on how different the text can be perceived by two very different actors.  I know the Dustin Hoffman production is up but I hope most of you have seen the Lee J Cobb production in your travels.
The thing about Hoffman's portrayal (and a lot of this comes from being a New Yorker as well I think) is that it makes almost no sense to me.  There's a weird softness to it that I don't like and I feel like playing them as this very New York Jewish family actually makes Willy a completely different character, but they don't bring that up in the production.  He gives him a funny accent but doesn't use any of the consequences of what that accent means.  A guy who sounded like that in 1949 would really only sell to Jewish clients. This is a post war society that has just finished fighting the Germans and the Japanese, any immigrant as suspect.  You couldn't even look "too Italian".  Willy wouldn't even be able to believably lie about being the top salesman and being buddies with all of those people because no one would believe that he'd be invited to mayors homes or paling around with all these different people up and down the east coast.  Not a chance.
And also, Dustin Hoffman is small and he's made to look pretty old.  To me, Willy has to seem like he had "Glory Days" at some point in his life, they're long gone, but he has too seem like he was Mr. Popular, or an athlete like Biff back in his prime as well.  That's why a guy like Lee J. Cobb (Or Brian Dennehy or Phillip Seymour Hoffman or Rod Steiger) makes sense.  These men are oxen, who even when they're older and heavier and out of shape, still look like they could take you out in a punch (maybe two).  I feel like one of the reasons Willy has an affair is becase, back in the old days, he could have had any woman he'd wanted.
A short, slight guy like Dustin Hoffman looks like he's never won a fight in his life.  And that, coupled with an immigrant back-story, could make for a very interesting interpretation of the character, but that wasn't explored at all in his production.

Brian Dennehy

Phillip Seymour Hoffman

Lee J. Cobb

Curious if these feelings resonate with anyone else.


  1. I think your points are well taken. I know that I just felt after watching Dustin Hoffman play Willie it seemed more like he was playing Walter Mitty.

  2. Eleanor,
    Great points here! This wasn't actually my first choice for us to watch, but it was the one most easily and freely available online. I'd have preferred us watch a stage production instead as many of the choices made by this producer significantly alters Miller's stage instructions and characterization as you have pointed out here.

    1. I just want to clarify that none of this was a dig at you for putting up the Hoffman version! I just realized it may have come off that way