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ON STAGE

What: “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller

When: March 30 to April 22. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays Where: Studio Theatre at 6th Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa

Tickets: $18-28

Information: 707-523-4185, 6thstreetplayhouse.com

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.”

TV role

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.”

1949 Pulitzer

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.

Since the character was born around the 1880s, he represents a certain dilemma of the American personality, as he lived through a more agricultural, rural and labor-intensive era.

His youth was in the West, but he goes into a life of sales and a little house in Brooklyn.

“Now he’s surrounded by apartment buildings and feels stifled,” said Siebert. “Society’s closing in and suffocating him, and he’s struggling with that.”

Demands concentration

Nowadays, there’s an abundance of ways to indulge in entertainment, whether it’s staying home and watching hours of content online, the TV or going to the movies with a bunch of friends. But theater demands a different kind of concentration.

“You have to be attentive and quiet,” Siebert said.

“The experience is rewarding because of the material. Great playwrights have a lot to say to us, and they’re worth listening to.”

He’s noticed how much the entertainment industry has grown as well, with quality content coming from newer venues like Netflix and Amazon. Siebert is interested in stories about human beings, and networks like HBO and Showtime provide that.

However, he’s not all that into many of today’s movies, those that come off as too high-tech and what he calls “video game films” filled with mostly computer graphics.

Like many people, Siebert doesn’t have anywhere near enough time to watch as much as he’d like to.

“There’s extraordinary work being done,” said Siebert.

“I think there’s been more than one golden age. We may be in a golden age — of television at least.”

There are only 13 performances of “Death of a Salesman” scheduled in the Studio Theatre, and Siebert recommends people who would like to come should get their tickets now.

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