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It's been a while since we saw Death of a Salesman 

Ten seasons have passed since Charles LaBorde starred as Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman at Theatre Charlotte -- with Annette Gill as Linda and Josh Gaffga as Biff sweeping CL's 1998 Theatre Awards in the drama category with their performances in the key supporting roles. A competition version of the Queens Road production brought additional honors statewide and regionally.

With LaBorde back as Willy -- and directing -- we get an "unplugged" Willy and an overall effort very reminiscent of the Old Barn's past glory. John Cunningham's take on Biff may not totally eclipse Gaffga's, but he's definitely got a leg up on the Brooklynese. Paula Baldwin, mated with LaBorde in last fall's Foxfire at CAST, makes a fairly sensational debut on Queens Road. Compared with Gill, she's less of a powerful apologist for Willy but more of a supportive wife. As for Michael Sharpe, the erstwhile folk troubadour in Foxfire, I can't recall ever seeing a more compelling rendition of Happy, Biff's younger sib.

Willy's own older sib, Uncle Ben, seems more mythical and fabricated this time around with Jim Greenwood decked out in the safari gear pronouncing those shibboleths. The excellence of this production crosses over the Lomans' fence into their more cerebral neighbors' yard. John Xenakis gives us all the jesting, mocking, soft-hearted flavor of the dad, and Kirk Dickens has all the nerdy dignity of the son.

News at the office is also good with Jon-Claude Caton providing a more businesslike take than most on Howard Wagner, Willy's young boss. On the road, Poppy Pritchett is less toxic in her reading of The Woman up in Boston than we usually see.

Miller's modern tragedy, rated the top American play of the 20th century by a panel of Brit critics, always merits a viewing. In a version this finely considered, snapping up a ticket is a no-brainer.

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