The “American Dream” — many have chased it, idealized it and pondered what it means to them throughout more than two centuries since its origin.
For Willy Loman, it became an obsession, and ultimately a factor in his failures in “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller, known as one of the greatest plays of the 20th century.
The show opens Friday, March 30, at the 6th Street Playhouse Studio Theatre in Santa Rosa. Sonoma County is lucky to have the starring role portrayed by Charles Siebert of Windsor, a longtime stage actor, and director. Active since the 1960s, he might be doing his very best work to date, despite turning 80 on March 9.
“I find as I’m older and more experienced,” said Siebert in a phone interview, “both as an actor and as a human being, I’m a much better actor.”
This confidence is perhaps what makes him most excited to play Loman, but especially because he’s never done it before. Siebert was in the very first company of San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre, where he understudied Loman’s son, Happy, in 1965.
He believes the play has a lot to say about life in America, with a character who is semi-tragic, with hopes of making it big, but continually succumbing to his own shortcomings. Siebert loves theater because he learns a lot about himself, and because the actor truly rules the stage.
“There’s nobody to say ‘Cut!’ and no take two,” said Siebert.
“Once you get on stage and start, there’s no stopping and turning back. You’re on your own, and you’ve got to perform.”
Siebert now lives in Windsor, having moved from his longtime home in Healdsburg in August. He made his Broadway theater debut in the late 1960s, and remains well known for playing Dr. Stanley Riverside II in the series “Trapper John, M.D.” from 1979 to 1986, and directing episodes “Xena: Warrior Princess” until 2001.
Siebert finds that after having stepped away from being an actor for a while, it’s a wonderful opportunity to come back and try to stretch himself again in that arena.
With his many life and stage experiences, he has become more relaxed and at ease at this point in his life.
“I relate better to the audience, and I hope the audience relates better to me,” said Siebert.
“It’s a very interesting time, fairly late in a career, to still be able to work and grow.”
Winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1949, and a Tony Award for best play, “Death of a Salesman” has managed to stand out and remain relevant for nearly 70 years.
“The character says, ‘If you’ve got a smile on your face and your shoes shined, you’ll do just fine in life,’” said Siebert, “and it really takes a lot more than that, doesn’t it?”
This mindset is what leads to Loman’s frustrations in finding success and happiness, both in his job and throughout his life. The play showcases moments where he begins to understand where it all went wrong, and how his never-ending quest made him blind to what was happening around him.