By Dedra Cordle
When Mark Mann reached a certain age, he created a Bucket List but he did not include popular categories such as ‘places to go’ and ‘things to see.’ Instead, what it focused on was everything that he wanted to be.
He wanted to be cold, calculating and manipulative. He wanted to become so ambitious that he succumbed to paranoia. He wanted to be vain and proud. He wanted to be unreasonable, yet sympathetic. He wanted to be challenging and challenged.
Although it may seem as if Mann, a resident of Grove City, is vying for a top spot in a book about people suffering from delusions of grandeur, it starts to make sense when it is looked upon in the proper context.
Mann is an actor who has made it his goal to tackle some of the most complicated characters in the history of the theatre. He recently conquered the title character in William Shakespeare’s “King Lear” but those who remain on his Bucket List – James Tyrone of “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” “Macbeth,” and Henry II in “The Lion in Winter” – loom large. But perhaps the character that casts the biggest shadow for Mann is Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman.”
Mann said that Willy Loman is an intimidating figure because he is such a familiar character.
“He truly resonates with people because every family has a Willy Loman,” he said.
In Arthur Miller’s 1949 Pulitzer Prize winning drama, Loman is depicted as a self-deluded failure who has never – and will never – recognize his shortcomings. Throughout the play, it is apparent he is losing his grip on reality, but it questions whether he had a true grasp of it in the first place.
Because Willy Loman is such a multi-faceted character, one might think an actor might show some reservation when offered the part.
“Oh, I wasn’t offered the part,” said Mann with a laugh. “They (the SRO Theatre Company who will soon be putting on their first production of “Death of a Salesman”) asked me to direct and I told them no because I would be playing Willy Loman in this production.”
With gusto, Mann began exploring the inner world of Willy Loman.
“I find it is a bit of a curse because you learn new things about the play and the character each time you read it and every time you go through a rehearsal.”
His passion for understanding the role has made for some interesting times at the dinner table with his wife Danielle, a Grove City native who is also an actor.
“I’ll start talking about something new I learned or wonder out loud how Willy would hold his fork and she’ll groan and say ‘Here it comes’”, he said. “I guess once I get started talking about it, I don’t stop.”
Even though he is deeply invested in the character, Mann knows his portrayal of the iconic character will not please everyone.
“It reminds me of Hamlet,” said the Lancaster native. “Any good actor can perform the part well but they will never be able to completely consume the role. Willy is that way too; you’ll either love the performance or hate it.”
Mann said what he will do with Loman is portray him through the lens of his own experience.
“I have to find some of him in me, and then draw from my own family members who are like him.”
He said even if the audience does not like his version of Loman, they would still like the show.
“I think they will enjoy watching a strong cast portray a very human story about a family that is disintegrating,” Mann said. “Even though the overarching theme is tragic, it is still entertainment at its core, only in a different way.”
The SRO Theatre Company’s production of “Death of a Salesman” runs from Nov. 14 through Nov. 24 in the Shedd Theatre at the Columbus Performing Arts Center, 549 Franklin Avenue in Columbus.
For showtimes and ticket information, visit www.srotheatre.org.