Millerís New Play Bursts with Urgent Potential But Is Not Quite Ready
In its premiere at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Arthur Millerís satire Resurrection Blues handily nails humankind and American society to the cross of economic corruption and the mediaís trivialialization of everything and anything in the name of commerce. Thatís no mean feat, and such hefty themes should be safe in the hands of Mr. Miller, who gave us those great classics of American theater, Death of a Salesman and The Crucible. But the play disengages me when a high moral tone or an overly long exposition cracks through the dark follies of satire and slows the action.
Miller sets the play in an unnamed South American country that is ruled by a military dictatorship and is supported by the US. The top one percent hold a lock on wealth and dread revolution; narco-money and brutal repression are the order of the day, but from among the peasantry, a Messiah-like young man arises who preaches love and develops a following, a man who literally lights up.
General Felix Barriaux decides to crucify him, and a New York ad agency buys the exclusive world rights for $25 million to this irresistible 24-hour-plus ordeal; after all, it can be interrupted with frequent commercials. But when the film crew arrives and the director understands she is to film a live crucifixion, she balks, and the play unfolds.
Mr. Miller creates some strong characters and dialogue. Particularly well realized under David Esbjornsonís direction are General Felix, played by John Bedford Lloyd, and David Chandlerís Skip Cheeseboro, the ad agencyís film producer.
The physically imposing Lloyd, all toffed up in a ribbon-and-medal- studded uniform, finds just the right mix of bombast and self-centered neediness in the imperious General, whose guiding principal is, "Fuck them, before they can fuck you." Yet he also admits to impotence: "My dog just wonít hunt," he says.
Chandler invests Skip Cheeseboro with a resolute shallowness; heís there to make a buck, regardless of what he films. Where shallowness belongs to Skip, itís a less comfortable fit for Laila Robinís nicely complex character, the frayed blonde film director Emily Shapiro. Robins gives a strong performance of a woman torn between her sensitivity and the superficial life she has learned to live. As she says, her job is to make fake things look real.
In a well shaded smaller role, Bruce Bohne convinces as the emaciated addict, Stanley, the unseen revolutionaryís friend.
Resurrectionís problems lie with the remaining two main characters, the Generalís cousin Henri Schultz and his daughter Jeanine, both of whom serve as the conscience of the play in a manner that better serves drama than satire.
Jeff Weiss plays the equivocating intellectual, Henri. He has Marxist leanings, heís troubled by the lot of the impoverished peasants, and heís dabbled in revolution. But he canít quite give up the income from his pharmaceutical businesses and his coca-growing farms. Weiss plays Henri as a likeable ditherer. He never quite finds his character, due in part to the way the role is written; it is Henriís indulgence in little lectures that slows the play down.
Mr. Miller also loads the role of Jeanine, Henriís daughter, who becomes the mouthpiece for moral outrage at the US and its complicit taxpayers who support the murderous regime of the General. Wendy vanden Heuvel does what she can with Jeanineís relatively underwritten character.
Director Esbjornsonís staging of Resurrection on the Guthrieís challenging thrust stage is simple and evocative. Onto a shallow back-scrim are projected Michael Sommersí shadow puppets of a trophy secretary, a giant vulture, mountains and palm trees, as scenes change. Set designer Christine Jonesí effective set panels lower from the ceiling to join minimal furniture pieces and a wooden cross in the making, and Marcus Dilliardís clever lighting ties all these elements into a believable geography of place.
In its first outing, Resurrection is funny and dark, but until it resists an inclination to broadcast its moral undercurrent and pushes all its characters into the embrace of satire, it will not punch us square in our complacent American guts.
Through September 8. Call for times. Guthrie Theater, Vineland Place, Minneapolis. Tickets: $16-46. Call: 612-377-2224.