5M/2F American Organic
95 min farce
Simple, unchanging set

WILLY: Something ought to be good for its own sake without having some empty promises stuck on and someone like you and me lying about it. Where your values, Charley?

CHARLEY: Values? I work in sales and advertising. I got no time for values. My values are your values. Your values are my bottom line. The basics, Willy. What’s wrong with you?

A successful salesman, who wants to retire, promises to partner his friend Willy in a small business and ends up learning a thing or two about himself.

American Organic is a two act farce about a salesman who is about to close a deal that will earn him enough commission to retire. His desires look certain of fulfillment until things start to unravel during the last performance of the local community theater production of Death of a Salesman in which he plays Charley, Willy's friend and neighbor. His nemesis, the actor who plays Willy, has other ideas about how Charley should spend his future. His own subtext, Willy’s antagonism, circumstances, and the behavior of his fellow actors conspire to destroy Charley’s retirement plans so that he is ultimately presented with a choice: continue struggling through the rat race or step into the unknown with Willy (much as Willy did with Ben in Salesman).

Characters refer to one another by the names of the characters they play. Their real names are unimportant, or as Becky Mae, stage manager, says "Who the hell knows you people anyway?" The barely working production of Death of a Salesman descends into chaos as actors and characters merge:

  • Willy struggles on the edge of reality having lost his job and his wife.
  • Linda pays us irregular visits from another plane.
  • Howard (whose real name is Edel Muller) struggles with the language, his misdirected ambition to be an actor, and a bag of delicacies from his father's delicatessen.
  • Becky Mae, stage manager, nurtures a physical attraction to Willy while developing a grudge against the world in general.
  • Ben wanders through with his brain in the past and his bladder very much in the present.
  • Arthur Miller himself, (or is it his ghost) who was passing through town, saw the play poster and had the misfortune to buy a ticket with a check, thus identifying himself to any one in the cast who can focus long enough to read the signature.

This play is, plain and simple, a two-act farce. "Theater people" seem to get a charge out of this play perhaps because it hits home with some of the feelings they experience towards themselves, other actors, directors, playwrights, audience, and critics. However, its premise is very much mainstream and its message is accessible to all audience members.

There are a few four letter words and some mild sexual references. During its development premiere as a one-act, some nine and ten year-olds laughed so hard along with their parents that the cast wanted to have the same children return for free to all subsequent performances.

Synopsis

This synopsis can only attempt to describe some of the machinations of the plot and character twists.

It is the last show in a run of Miller's Death of a salesman. Charley (artistic director and usual lead) arrives at the theater flush with the knowledge that he is about to close a deal (in real life he is a salesman) with a big prospect. He tells Linda not to mention it to his wife, Doris, because he is planning a surprise vacation for the two of them. Willy (also a salesman at Charley's company until yesterday) arrives on Charley's heels and complains to Charley (his boss) that getting laid off will destroy him.

Howard arrives in the green room in his usual state of panic. He still doesn't know his lines and wants to quit the show. While Charley is in the bathroom, Howard takes a call from Charley's wife with a confused message that Charley's prospect wants his sales proposal delivered to the airport by midnight. As luck would have it, Charley has the unfinished proposal in his briefcase. He has four hours to get it finished and delivered to the CEO who is leaving on a midnight flight.

During the first act of Death of a Salesman, it is discovered that the box office cash box contains a check signed by one "Arthur Miller". Even though the author of the play is dead, this news still freaks out Howard who believes that Miller is indeed in the auditorium.

Ben arrives, drunk as usual, and spends his time not going to the convenient indoor toilet. His claustrophobia forces him to go outside repeatedly until finally Howard answers the phone to be told that someone who says he is an actor, calling himself Ben, is in a local police cell.

The only thing for it is to see if the Miller imposter in the auditorium can stand in for Ben. They get the imposter into the green room and discover that, not only does he know Ben's lines, he knows all the lines. After all he wrote the play. Whether he is Miller, or Miller's ghost, or some gifted imposter, Charley persuades him to fill Ben's role. This the imposter does while managing to complete Charley's sales proposal (or so Charley believes).

Ben is released from custody and returns to the theater, having no place else to go. Now there are two Uncle Bens.

Willy has been trying his best to kill Charley's efforts to complete his sales proposal, so that Charley might renew an earlier promise to come into a vegetable growing business with him. Willy even resorts to taking the proposal on stage and distributing it to the audience ("someone's got to entertain them")

Charley discovers that he was delusional when he thought the imposter had completed his proposal and collapses. But then, he learns that the need to have his finished proposal at the airport by midnight was not correct (the actual message concerned Charley's sister in law ZOE having to be picked up at the airport at midnight). This news is irrelevant since the proposal is now so much waste paper and confetti strewn around the green room and the auditorium.

Charley draws lots using:

  • representing Mexico: a gun (produced earlier by BECKY MAE in an attempt to get HOWARD to go on stage
  • representing sales: HOWARD'S cell phone
  • representing vegetables: a trowel.

and talks himself into choosing Mexico.

Willy is surprised at how easy it was to convince Charley to come to Mexico with him. They close up the theater (the Death of a Salesman show has long since collapsed and the audience has gone home with some of Charley's sales proposal) and leave for Mexico and their new business American Organic (having first arranged for their wives to join them at a later date).

Charley returns at the curtain to pocket the gun.

Cast

LINDA LOMAN Woman 40+. WILLY'S wife in "Salesman." Dizzy.
CHARLEY Man. 40+. Calm (initially), fatherly.
WILLY LOMAN Man 40+. Charley's friend and neighbor in "Salesman" and in real life. Harried, frantic, manic.
BECKY MAE Woman 20-30. Stage Manager. Disgruntled.
HOWARD Man 20-30. WILLY'S boss in "Salesman." Frantic, misdirected ambition to be an actor.
BEN Man 50+, WILLY'S older brother in "Salesman" and in real life. Disconnected.
ARTHUR MILLER Man 60+. Stately.

Structure

Act I Backstage at the local community theatre. The last show in an interrupted run of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Thirty minutes before curtain.
Act II Shortly after the start of act II of Death of a Salesman.

The play runs about 100 minutes (excluding one intermission).


Stage

Back stage at the local community theatre. The last show in a short run of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman.

The green room occupies most of the stage. It contains one table, three chairs, two suitcases, and a large garbage can. A telephone and a loudspeaker sit on the table. To one side is the unisex dressing room.

There are three exits/entrances:

  • Exit to Salesman stage with sign "Stage."
  • Exit with sign "Exit."
  • Exit with sign "Restroom-Unisex. AUDIENCE ONLY"

 

American Organic sample (pages 1 through 11)

 

 

Following are some notes from the playbill of the one-act version (Willy Loman is Dead and Gone):

In 1998, I played Uncle Ben in Miller's Death of a Salesman. During my research, I discovered a Miller quote where he maintained that Ben was characterless. This was a problem because I needed to identify some qualities of my character's "character". With no character, my research was finished before it started. Or so I thought.

sd

(l.to r.) Mike Shaw (CHARLEY) Edwin Strout (HOWARD) Erik Steen (WILLY)

During the run, a cast member wondered why lesser role actors had to spend so much time backstage waiting to go on. No one wanted to point out the obvious: lesser role characters are sentenced to long fret-periods in the green room. Someone suggested rewriting the play so that Willy Loman and his immediate family were relegated to small roles while the lesser roles were given the limelight. This, they maintained, would surely demonstrate to the audience how complex the minor characters really are. Funny what actors talk about in the throes of stage fright.

sdf

(l.to r.) Erik Steen (WILLY), Marilyn Murray (LINDA), Mike Shaw (CHARLEY) in the one-act opening.

The reversal idea became the driver for Willy Loman is Dead and Gone. Ben and Charley were to be the leads but, as is wont, Ben became a lesser character once again, this time being superceded by Charley. Perhaps Arthur Miller was right about Ben after all.

As it turned out, I had misunderstood Miller's assertion. Ben has plenty of character in his own right but his character traits are frozen in time from Willy's point of view. He has no "character" in the present.