'Magnificent Terror' - An interview with Martha Wigmore about her role in "Death of a Salesman"

The second time I met Martha Wigmore she made me cry.Emily Anderson

It was in rehearsal for (you guessed it!) Death of a Salesman and Linda is on the phone with her oldest son, Biff, and she tells him some wonderful news about something Willy, her husband, did. She is so exuberant and happy...then as she listens to the other end of the line she gets quiet. She slumps a little more. You can literally watch her heart as it breaks within her, but she picks up the pieces and, incredibly, soldiers on.

And I cried like I haven’t cried since the first time I saw Les Miz on stage.

I thought you might like a chance to get to know this absolutely incredible woman, so I asked her to sit down with me and talk about some of her experiences with this show and with acting.

Emily: So Martha, how many shows have you been in?

Headshot_MarthaWigmore_135x135Martha: Salesman is my 30th show since I first started performing ten years ago in 2002. What a lovely benchmark!

E: What is that like?

M: In productions at other theatres I have especially enjoyed playing classical roles, including Baptista (played as a mother) in Taming of the Shrew, Lady Britomart in Shaw’s Major Barbara, and Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet.

I also treasure having played Lyric Arts’ friend Tim Gage’s mother in his play Danny is Going to Die.

E: Have you done any shows at Lyric before?

M: I’ve been in 9 shows at Lyric Arts, plus one Fishing Widow's Cabaret. Some favorites might be: Death of a Salesman as Linda Loman, directed by Robert Neu, April 2013 Leading Ladies as Florence, directed by Robert Neu, September 2011 Cat on a Hot Tin Roof as Big Mama, directed by Scott Ford, September 2010

E: How do you like working at Lyric Arts?

M: One could say that I’ve felt Lyric Arts’ embrace from the get-go! I’m forever grateful to director Phil Bologna for casting me...in my first plays at Lyric. I’ve learned so much here. It’s always been a great ride at Lyric.

E: How you approach a character like Linda?

M: Without the accumulated experiences I have had on stage, I could never feel as safe with the role of ‘Linda Loman’ as I do at this time. It has felt that this role, this production, this director and I converged at the right time. That said, every moment in this role is a magnificent terror. There is tremendous responsibility to properly tell this playwright’s truth.

I love doing this role at this time in my life where my experiences so exquisitely inform my understanding of this character and her family. There’s a lot of love in this couple or they couldn’t be together. This is OUR story – ‘OUR’ being all women, all men. It is us, on so many levels.

I love plays with muscular language, in which the act of speaking is a physical act. Miller’s language just ‘sings’, start to finish. Death of the Salesman is the ultimate actor’s play.

E: How do you think we’re doing?

M: This cast, director, and crew is a memorable convergence of talent. It is evident that at this point we share a deep respect for the beauty of this masterpiece. But there is nothing stuffy in our explorations of the play – every day brings new discoveries and approaches. The cast has caught the immediacy of this story for all humanity, regardless the time period. There is such truth and unguarded exposure in these performances. It is deeply moving and humbling to be working with this group.

E: How you like working with Director Robert Neu?

M: None of the productions I have been in has had the complexity of Salesman in both technical and acting aspects, and Bob is as thoroughly prepared as a conductor for rehearsal. He comes each day intimately familiar with the entire ‘score’, the text of the play, and is a master at planning and using rehearsal time to greatest benefit. Bob has a deep appreciation for the ‘music’ of Miller’s text and is dedicated to make it sing and feel appropriately varied through our performances. He is respectful of actors, perceptive with his questions and careful with his suggestions, creating a rehearsal environment in which it is safe for the actor to explore. The idea of discovery fuels the rehearsal process.

E: Is there anything you’d like to tell the folks at home?

M: I’m the poster-child for lifelong learning and growth. I was too shy to even consider performing or singing until my 40’s. But various hobbies gave me life experiences that steadily built up my confidence in public, and finally my shower-singing moved to the stage (with clothes on!). All of which flowed from learning to love myself so that I could genuinely ‘love my neighbor’. That’s one powerful tool.

E: Can you sum up Death of a Salesman in three words?

M:  Resonance, Nakedness, Love