Both Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman and August Wilson’s Fences portray a unique slice of American life, an examination of family dynamics against a backdrop of American culture, society, and materialism. In the mid-1990s, August Wilson took on Robert Brustein, a noted theater scholar, director and critic. Brustein argued for a more inclusive theater with “colorblind” casting and believes that a white cast could play Fences just as believably as a black troupe could play Death of a Salesman. To August Wilson, such casting is absurd. As the playwright argued in reaction to Brustein’s comments:
Brustein is a cultural imperialist. Colorblind casting is a sop to white consciences. We need more theaters that reflect black experience and provide work for black theater artists. What could be sillier than black actors performing Death of a Salesman or a white troupe essaying Fences? Look, I am obviously a minority opinion here. Actors certainly don’t agree with me. Actors want to work, that’s all. I understand that.
There is no denying that an actor like James Earl Jones might be valid in the role of King Lear, but would it work for a black actor to be cast as King Henry IV whose slave ships are sailing the seas? With respect to Death of a Salesman and Fences, we have many similarities. Both are about the destruction of the soul of a family patriarch, Willy Loman and Troy Maxon. Both of the plays show culture clashes. In the case of Willy Loman, he is older and unsuccessful materially in a culture that uses material success as the measure of a man. Willy is just an unlucky “hard-working drummer who landed in the ash can like all of them” (Miller 132). In the case of Troy Maxon, he is angry, bitter, and filled with self-contempt because of being oppressed and limited by a culture that is racist and discriminatory. Troy’s anger, bittern