Mike Nichols directs the play, in which 44-year-old Hoffman portrays tragic salesman Willy Loman, with Andrew Garfield making his New York stage debut as his older son, Biff.
The show opened at Manhattan’s Ethel Barrymore Theater on Thursday night (15Mar12), attracting a star-studded crowd including Hollywood actresses Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Anjelica Huston, Julianna Margulies and Garfield’s girlfriend and The Amazing Spider-Man co-star Emma Stone.
But while the performance was warmly received by the audience, critics have been split by the production.
The New York Post’s reviewer Elisabeth Vincentelli questions Hoffman’s suitability, playing a character 16 years his senior, and writes: “Hoffman faces a big problem in that he’s 44 to Willy’s 60. It’s hard to buy him not only as a man nearing retirement age, but as the father of two grown sons.”
She also brands Garfield’s performance “twitchy”.
The Los Angeles Times’ critic laments Hoffman’s acting is “just a bit too monochromatic”, adding, “There’s fury and intelligence but not enough variety to the palette.”
In contrast, Roger Friedman of Forbes.com celebrates the revival as “outstanding” and Hoffman and Garfield’s performances as “stunning”, while the New York Daily News’ Joe Dziemianowicz insists the production is “powerful and emotionally rich”.
He describes Hoffman as an “expert at expressing Willy’s soul-crushing sadness”, and also has kind words for The Social Network star Garfield: “(He) makes an impressive New York stage debut as Biff. Besides nailing a Brooklyn accent, he squeezes out every drop of poignancy as the conflicted and lost Loman son.”
Death of a Salesman runs until 2 June (12).