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|A CurtainUp Review
By Kathryn Osenlund
The East Coast premiere of Arthur Miller's Resurrection Blues is on stage at the Wilma Theater. (The U.S. premiere was held at the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis in August 2002.) Arthur Miller, it turns out, is a funny man. Who knew?
Miller's landmark works, Death of Salesman, andThe Crucible address the American Dream and social ills respectively, themes that after all these years run through this satiric work as well. Resurrection Blues has an outrageous premise: The military dictator of a Banana Republic, General Felix Barriaux (Munson Hicks), is ready to crucify a messianic, revolutionary figure who has been captured in the mountains, since rebels remain unimpressed by firing squads. Barriaux's cousin Henri Schultz (Patrick Husted), a former Marxist, neo philosopher and mega-wealthy businessman, relays an offer to the general: New York ad people want to secure exclusive rights to cover the crucifixion for commercial TV, and they're offering big money. Although Henri urges the general to turn down the offer, he is conflicted because he stands to profit and is concerned about the national economy.
A producer, director, and film crew arrive. Producer Skip L. Cheeseboro is played by Doug Wert, who really has it down. Skip, a no-nonsense pro and the play's super Capitalist, won't back off from the crucifixion project insisting that he's "not about to condescend to these people with a foreign, colonialist mentality." The director, Emily Shapiro (Gretchen Egolf), is appalled at the prospect of filming a crucifixion. When Skip points out that it's an important career move for her, she's torn, worried that she won't be able to afford her new apartment. A hippie and intermediary for the putative messiah, Stanley (Douglas Rees), is thrown into the mix. He speaks in "up talk," ending his sentences so they sound like questions. Very California.
The flat out satiric parts of the play entertain as they make their point. Characters are caught in dilemmas, torn between self interest and doing the right thing. The central problem is viewed from various interesting angles. There is speculation that the messianic character, seen only as bright light, is in fact only imaginary! But, it is countered, he can't be imaginary because people dreaming through life need him to be real. But is he God, or not? Does he even know? Evidence suggests that he intends to be a martyr, but should he stick around for his own crucifixion? That is the big question. Some contend that he can't let the people down because their villages are vying to be the execution site, which would increase local property values, and maybe eventually lead to a casino or a theme park. Even so, the crucifixion seems wrong to some.
Barriaux gets caught in a bind after Emily, whom he romances in some funny scenes, uses her influence on him. He weighs canceling the crucifixion, opting out of the contract, and keeping the money for the country. As he explains to the heavenly light, "I'm talking new construction, I'm talking investments." Munson Hicks does a fine comically murderous general with personal problems and a Miami analyst.
Miller's finely honed instincts are at work on the Felix Barriaux and Skip Cheeseboro roles, which are well conceived, amusing, and eminently actable. And Stanley, the hippie, is also highly entertaining.
On the other hand, the ponderous and preachy Henri, and Jeanine (Patricia Ageheim), his histrionic daughter, represent a weaker aspect of the play. There is a double problem-- the writing and the delivery. The characters, somber and heavy, don't fit with the satiric tone and lighter-stroke characterizations of the others. If only the playwright had brought these characters down from the pulpit! The audience doesn't need to be hit over the head with issues that have been made quite clear humorously. In performance, had the actors been directed to speak their lines simply it might have made a difference. As it is, even his fine treatise on imagination is lost in Henri's forced and artificial cadence, which is sustained throughout the performance.
This play could stand to lose some marginal characters, and at times things bog down in rhetoric and need trimming to provide more show and less tell. But who would be so bold as to knock on Mr. Miller's door and offer to edit a play for the theater giant who penned Death of a Salesman, among other fine plays, and whose marriage to Marilyn Monroe inspired Huxley's The Genius and the Goddess?
The Wilma production features just enough soldiers that it could be any major US airport, and a strong visual approach to the play. The dramatic stage set features multi levels and rooms that resemble film frames and move forward. The lighting design is effective and beautiful.
Although the play slips out of control, it has important things to say about our culture, and it often says them uproariously. When it's funny Resurrection Blues is laugh out loud funny, and when it stumbles there's still enough Miller to make it worthwhile.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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