Terry Teachout, writing on WSJ.com:
Simon Stone, the resident director of Belvoir St. Theatre, an Australian company, jumped head first into a pail of boiling oil when he took it upon himself to rewrite “Death of a Salesman.” Not only did he cut the play’s epilogue, but he altered the manner in which Willy Loman, Arthur Miller’s protagonist, meets his death. In the original play, Willy dies in a car crash that may or may not have been intentional; in Mr. Stone’s staging, he commits suicide by gassing himself….
Such productions, when done well, can offer fresh and illuminating perspectives on overfamiliar masterpieces — so long as their creators believe in the underlying validity of the original text. But whenever you deviate from that text, you run the risk of twisting, even perverting its meaning….At the same time…I do believe that great works of art can profit from radical reinterpretations that fling conventional wisdom out the window.
The thing I worry about is people who are discovering these classics for the first time. I’ve known several people who’ve gone to see one of these so-called “overfamiliar masterpieces” and told me they couldn’t understand why anyone ever liked them — and then described some inane addition that I had to assure them was crammed in there by someone attempting to “reinterpret” the play.
You can do a parody of “Citizen Kane” because anyone at any time can go watch the original. You can’t do that with most stage plays. Before a director decides it’s time to make a play new, I hope she’ll stop to think whether the play as written might already be new to most of her audience.