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SHOW OF THE WEEK

July 20, 1986

"DEATH OF A SALESMAN," Thursday, 8-11 p.m. (2)(8)--Welcome back, Willy.

After this latest version of Arthur Miller's classic first aired on CBS last September, several viewers mentioned that, not wishing to spend three hours on such a downer, they had watched it only reluctantly, but almost immediately found themselves riveted to the screen.

That is a great testament to the power of Miller's play and also to its 1985 translation to TV, with a soaring performance by Dustin Hoffman as the poor, pathetic, little traveling salesman whose drab life falls far short of his big dreams.

Hoffman had played Willy on Broadway a year earlier and is joined here by two other members of the Broadway revival cast, Kate Reid as Willy's devoted wife, Linda, and John Malkovich as Willy's oldest son, Biff, who is tormented by his failure to live up to his father's expectations. Reid and Malkovich are outstanding.

Willy is human wreckage. He is coming apart, a man who is both victim and victimizer. A failure at home and on the job, he inflicts pain on himself and others as he stumbles through his last hallucinating days, unable to confront the truth about his own life.

Hoffman, who was intimately involved in all areas of the production, and director Volker Schlondorff (best known for directing a movie, "The Tin Drum") have shaped this "Salesman" into a TV-tailored production with few compromises. It's a stunningly told story, one of those rare times when TV is transformed into scintillating, meaningful theater.

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