© 2024 Peoria Public Radio
A joint service of Bradley University and Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A Peoria native returns home to bring 'Death of a Salesman' to the stage

Tom Hardin, director of "Death of a Salesman"
Jody Holtz
Tom Hardin, director of "Death of a Salesman."

A Peoria native now living in Blanchardville, Wis. is returning home to the River City for an important cause.

Tom Hardin grew up in Peoria and frequently did productions with Corn Stock Theatre. It was through his love of the stage that he met his close friends, Jeff Sloter, a former Caterpillar communication consultant, and Dan Allar, a Bradley University graduate.

“Jeff and I always talked about doing 'Death of a Salesman' together. We always argued who would direct, who would act, who would do Willy, who would do the directing, and lo and behold when he was supposed to retire, that's when we were going to do the show. And he passed away … Jeff Sloter had a heart attack and Dan because of cancer. So in his honor, and in Dan's honor, I'm going to do 'Death of a Salesman” at Corn Stock Theatre,' said Hardin.

Corn Stock Theatre website

The classic play was written in 1948 by playwright Arthur Miller. The story closely follows the struggles of Willy Loman, an unsuccessful traveling salesman and father of two sons, Biff and Happy. Willy spends the play chasing the American dream that ends up having irreversible consequences.

“Now, it's kind of obvious. It's 'Death of a Salesman.' We know what's going to happen, but why and how is the important part,” explained Hardin.

“I believe that the character Willy is suffering. Back in the day, it was called old age. But today, they have different terms for dementia, Alzheimer's, things of that nature," said Hardin. "For sure, Willie has dementia. He has memory issues, memory problems, but it's a society that doesn't take care of him or help him. So, it is about human dignity in my opinion.”

While Hardin admits the play can be a bit controversial, he stressed that he wants to leave politics out of his production.

“I'm going to focus on the family drama. It's a very political play. It draws a lot of controversy. It is about the American dream, and many people would say…you know what the American dream is not achievable for everybody. I would disagree with that. Maybe it wasn't achievable for Willy in the play, but it was for Charlie, his best friend, and so it depends on your value system,” noted Hardin.

Within the play, Willy grew up without a father. That hits close to home for Hardin.

“I grew up without a father. Fatherless America is a very huge problem in our society," he said. "I don't think that people, people that grow up without a father have really been steered in the right way, and so their value system is a little bit skewed, and Willy's value system is definitely skewed.”

With many universal themes to unpack in a production memorializing two close friends, Hardin is seeking a big turnout for auditions.

“So, I'd like to reach out to those people at Caterpillar to come on board, audition this coming weekend at Corn Stock center…and do the show and the memory of Jeff. And the same thing for Dan. Many people don't know, but Dan was an actor here at Bradley University before he went off to Chicago to do professional theater. He directed here. He acted here in a number of different shows… he too, is well known by many people, and I'd like to invite those people to come on to audition and do 'Death of a Salesman” in honor of these two men,' said Hardin.

With a cause so close to his heart, Hardin is committed to having this show play in Peoria — the central location of his friendships with Sloter and Allar. To do this, he will be traveling from Wisconsin and living in his RV Monday through Thursday during the show's run.

“And then I'm going to turn around and go back home on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, because I am married and still want to be married to my lovely wife, Susan,” Hardin said.

Director Tom Hardin (left) with stage manager Chris Peterlin
Jody Holtz
Director Tom Hardin (left) with stage manager Chris Peterlin

With a game plan intact and performance dates set for October 21-23 and 28-30, Hardin hopes the story resonates with audiences.

“In researching Arthur Miller, he has stated that this play is not a piece of propaganda. It is not the left versus the right, that if he did do a piece of propaganda, it wouldn't be as popular as it is today. It does focus on universal themes, and we're going to talk about politics. But it's not going to be about politics. It's going to be about the family drama.”

Auditions for “Death of a Salesman” run from 6-9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12 at the Corn Stock Theatre Center, 1606 N. Park Road in Peoria. They will continue from 1-5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 13, and Sunday, Aug. 14. For more information on what to prepare, visit the audition page via Facebook.

Jody Holtz is WCBU's assistant program and development director, All Things Considered host, as well as the producer of WCBU’s arts and culture podcast Out and About.