Chances are you've at least heard of Death of a Salesman; Arthur Miller's play, it seems, is always around. So when Iowa City's Riverside Theatre stages a production of this classic script, they're facing some high expectations. After all, this isn't just any play.

But with this production, Riverside absolutely lives up to the standards expected of the show.

Basically, Salesman is the story of the American dream - and the failure to reach it. At 60 years old, salesman Willy Loman (Ron Clark) is a tired, broken man. The prosperity he so longed for has yet to reach him, and his grown children have yet to amount to anything.

Willy constantly dwells on the past, and as he does, the play jumps between his flashbacks and reality. One of the strengths in this production is the clear presentation of some potentially confusing scenes. Here, the transitions are smooth and effective, distinguishing between the past and present by wrapping Willy in a golden glow while he's absorbed in his thoughts, and returning to a harsher white light when he's abruptly awakened to what's actually happening around him.

From the moment Clark entered the stage as Willy Loman, dressed in an everyday tan suit with two suitcases in hand, he never falters. He captures Willy's desperation with his struggle to hold on to his job, his inability to cope with reality, and his child-like sense of hope as he dreams about his family's future.

Joe Price plays Biff, Willy's now-34-year-old son, who has jumped from one job to the next, unable to make anything of himself. In the scene in which he finally confronts his father, Biff's frustration and rage are evident. The two actors create one of the most intense moments in the entire production, as their shouts fill the small theater and their emotions are more vivid than in any play I've ever seen.

As Linda and Happy Loman, Jody Hovland and Scot West don't convey they same depth as Clark and Price. But their performances do capture the essence of their roles as the woman who is desperately trying to hold her family together, and the son who refuses to admit how unsatisfied he really is with his life.

And - certainly not least of all - Tim Budd plays Ben, the dead brother who appears to Willy throughout the play as a ghost-like apparition that practically glides about the stage. He's always just beyond Willy's reach, speaking with a warm but detached tone, and dressed in a white suit that glows with the prosperity Willy so longed for.

There were occasional moments in the production that felt a bit strained and others that tended to drag, especially in the longer scenes toward the beginning. But any doubts about this Death of a Salesman are erased by the strong final scenes, and the solid performances by the main actors.

The Riverside Theatre will present performances of Death of a Salesman through Sunday, February 19. For reservations, call the Riverside box office at (319)338-7672.

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