AURORA | The Denver Center Theatre Company’s production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” will be a kind of homecoming for Anthony Powell. The Aurora resident and artistic director of the Stories on Stage theater troupe will direct the DCTC’s season premiere after a 6-year absence from the company. It’s a high-profile return for Powell, who directed and acted in dozens of Denver Center productions during more than 15 seasons with the company. We caught up with Powell, who moved to north Aurora with his wife three years ago, to chat about his return to the DCTC, his move to Aurora and the pressures of directing what many consider to be the great American play.
Question: You directed and starred in dozens of shows with the Denver Center Theatre Company during your stint in the ‘80s, ‘90s and 2000s. How did you come to the organization?
Answer: Like most good things in life, it was totally accidental. I was trained as an actor; I acted professionally for a number of years. By the time I turned 30, I thought directing was where I wanted to go. My old mentors were Donovan Marley and Barbara Sellers, who were running the Denver Center. I called them really just for advice. It was literally, ‘Donovan’s assistant just quit, do you want to come here and make coffee?’ I said, ‘Yes, I would.’ It was totally earn while you learn … I took it from there. I had a nice, long run here. It was something like 18 seasons.
Q: Working in Denver and Boulder with the DCTC and now Stories On Stage, how did you end up moving to Aurora?
A: I’ve lived in Aurora almost four years. My wife and I were in Englewood. She owned a duplex with her sister, and her sister was moving to San Francisco. We didn’t want to become landlords, so we started looking around. All the cool places that were in our price range were out there. I really liked the neighborhoods and I really like our block. It’s really got a neighborhood feel to it, and all of Aurora does. It’s funny, because people still go, ‘Aurora?’ I say, ‘Have you been there? It’s really great.’ You can feel it growing. It’s slow and steady, but that’s exciting too.
Q: How did the opportunity to direct ‘Death of a Salesman’ come about?
A: It was a total bolt from the blue. I got an email saying, ‘Can you meet with (DCTC Creative Director) Kent Thompson?’ My first thought was, ‘I must be in trouble. I haven’t worked here for six years, but I must be in trouble.’ They asked if I’d like to direct, and I laughed. I thought it couldn’t be real.
Q: It’s hard to think of a more iconic piece of American theater. How is it as a director approaching a piece that’s such a standard?
A: Everyone keeps saying, ‘So, the great American play, huh?’ It is a great American play, but you can’t approach it like that. I’ve been likening it to directing certain Shakespeare plays, like ‘Hamlet.’ We’re in the round. There’s the classic idea of the two-tiered set that’s the Loman house; that’s in the script. (Playwright Arthur) Miller actually wrote it for a bare stage with three platforms. It was revolutionary for the time. He wanted to write a play that worked the way our minds worked, where I’m talking to you and thinking about my laundry list. They created a scene where you could do that. Finding the equivalent in the round took the pressure off. You need to treat it like a new play.
Q: Mike Hartman plays Willie Loman in this production. How has it been working with him as your lead?
A: The danger of playing Willie Loman is that you become a victim, that you play the victim and that you play for sympathy. What’s so great about Mike is that he’s playing the character as written. The character as written is a fighter. He’s facing terrible dilemmas, but he’s scrappy. So much has been written about this play — it’s the great American play, it’s about the American dream. That’s all true, but really it’s a play about a family in trouble. For me, if it’s the great American play, it’s because it’s the great American family play. When I reread it, my first response was, ‘That’s me and my dad’ … Miller was tapping into some pretty deep stuff about families.
Reach reporter Adam Goldstein at 720-449-9707 or firstname.lastname@example.org
“Death of a Salesman”
Runs from Sept. 20 to Oct. 20 at
the Space Theatre, 1101 13th St., Denver.
Tickets start at $38.
Information: 303-893-9582 or denvercenter.org.