Biff Loman, attention must be paid &mdash your soft skills are lacking

If Biff Loman, the wastrel son in Arthur Miller’s classic “Death of a Salesman,” strode into Abby Snay’s office looking for work, she isn’t sure what she’d tell him. But she is sure she’d be glad her office pens are attached to the front desk with a chain.

Snay chatted with Traveling Jewish Theatre director Aaron Davidman on Saturday, April 28 about Jews, the workforce and the hard-pressed Loman family, protagonists of Miller’s play.

The discussion, held before several dozen theatergoers prior to opening curtain of TJT’s staging of the play, was situated in the troupe’s San Francisco home, a former cannery that still flaunts its industrial roots: High, metallic ceilings with conveyer belts dangling from the rafters and large, foggy plate glass windows.

Off in another wing of the theater, the actors engaged in caterwauling vocal exercises that often drowned out the softspoken Snay (but not the more theatrical Davidman), until Davidman left the room and asked them to keep it down a bit (“Well, he is the director,” Snay said with a laugh).

And while Snay was the de facto interviewer in the discussion, it was Davidman who showed an inquisitor’s instinct when Snay made an offhand comment about imagining what she would do if Biff Loman and his swanky blue, pin-striped suit were waiting for her in the JVS waiting room.

“I want to know what you’re going to tell Biff? What are you going to tell him if he says ‘My dad wants me to be Boss Bigshot in two weeks. What am I going to do?'” said Davidman, garnering a laugh from the crowd.

Snay noted that Biff’s ascent to Boss Bigshot, if it ever comes, will definitely not come in two weeks.

“The way people get ahead is through education. He lives in a world of delusions and he has no soft skills — Biff steals,” said Snay.

Biff’s petty larceny, in fact, cost him every job he ever had. He swiped a box of basketballs as a teenager and later stole a pen from a man he hoped to hit up for a $10,000 loan (hence Snay’s welcome chains). Willy and Linda Loman are deeply proud of how handsome their 34-year-old son looks in that blue suit; that may well be his only marketable skill. But, in fact, he stole the suit as well, and served three months in jail for it.

Snay and Davidman noted that Willy is a man with dead-end values when it comes to prioritizing what was needed to get ahead in life and fill a niche in the postwar American workplace.

While he raves about how his sons, Biff and Happy, are “built like Adonises,” he has nothing but scorn for his shrimpy nephew, Bernard. Bernard goes off to try a case before the Supreme Court. Maybe Biff could loan him a pen.

“The key to upward mobility for Jews and other groups was through education and hard work. That’s the classic path that Bernard followed … Willy just can’t get it,” Snay said.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.