Lee Siegel is the author, most recently, of “Harvard Is Burning.”
ARTHUR MILLER’s “Death of a Salesman,” now on Broadway in a Tony-nominated revival — and starring a heart-shattering Philip Seymour Hoffman as a Willy Loman for the ages — is the most devastating portrait of punctured middle-class dreams in our national literature. Yet as I sat through a recent performance, I wondered why the play was revived at all.
While “Death of a Salesman” has consolidated its prestige as an exposure of middle-class delusions, the American middle class — as a social reality and a set of admirable values — has nearly ceased to exist.
Certainly few middle-class people, or at least anyone from any “middle class” that Loman would recognize, are among the audiences attending this production. What was once a middle-class entertainment has become a luxury item. Tickets for the original run, in 1949, cost between $1.80 and $4.80; tickets for the 2012 run range from $111 to $840. After adjusting for inflation, that’s a 10-fold increase, well beyond the reach of today’s putative Willy Lomans....