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Silver Bay community theater group explores 'Death of a Salesman'

Lake Superior Community Theater executive director Paul Deaner admits that producing a tragedy is a departure from the upbeat musicals that are the bread and butter of many small theater companies. Undaunted, he has chosen to bring Arthur Miller's Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "Death of a Salesman," to the Silver Bay stage this month.

Deaner said that after many successful, lighter productions, like last year's "Grease," it's time to go deeper.

"Definitely a 180," he said of the decision, "but for 11 years we've considered directing this play and the pieces have finally come together. We need to see serious drama on stage, the stage of life."

The play takes place during the last 24 hours of the life of Willy Loman, a man who has given his life to the pursuit of success -- the American Dream. In his final hours, Loman looks back and grapples with the wisdom of his decisions and takes stock of what he has accomplished. Deaner says these are the existential questions we all face.

"We need to be reminded of the importance of getting real with our lives, our souls. This play grabbed me when I studied it in college. I think its honesty, its grappling with ... the meaning of one's life grabbed me," he said. George Starkovich, who plays Willy Loman, agrees.

" 'Death of a Salesman' has always been a fascinating play for me. The character of Willy Loman, for me, transcends the time period because it talks about the American Dream. Willy faces failure, which we all do. It's about everybody," he said. Starkovich said that the play's story has played out in various ways in the lives of people he's known on the North Shore, including members of his own family.

"I saw my father, who worked for Reserve Mining for years, and saw other World War II era vets who'd worked their butts off for years and suddenly, boom! Their house is worthless. We all have dreams, but sometimes life comes and slaps you right in the face," Starkovich observed.

Deaner said that another reason he wanted to produce "Death of a Salesman" is because of his regard for Starkovich.

"He literally handed me the keys to the auditorium in 2002. The faith and trust he put in me touched me deeply, and I'm so honored to see him with a major leading role in one of our shows," he said. That's not to say that Starkovich doesn't have the chops for the role. In fact, the former William Kelley High School principal is a 1965 graduate of St. Cloud State University with a degree in theater and speech. His acting resume includes roles in "West Side Story," "Uncle Vanya," "Inherit the Wind" and a USO-

sponsored tour of the "Pajama Game," among others. He also has directed numerous plays.

Starkovich has given much to theater, but it also has given back to him. He met his wife, Penny, during his military service, where he was a member of the Third Army Soldier Show, a group that toured military bases to entertain troops before their deployment to Vietnam.

The play will be performed by a company of 17 actors. The show will open with a daytime performance today for high school students only. Evening performances will be at 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday and April 19-20 on the William Kelley High School auditorium stage. While the play tackles themes that most adults will identify, will high school students understand? Starkovich says "Death of a Salesman" has a message for the younger generation, too.

"Each of our lives is determined by the choices we make. Goals are important, but it's just as important to be happy in life. This is the first generation that will not have it better than their parents, so how do we live today? My wife had a saying: Life is a gift, that's why it's called the present. Carpe diem."

Reserved-seating tickets for the classic American play, "Death of a Salesman," are available online at General admission tickets will be sold at the door. Ticket prices are $10 for adults and $8 for students.