“It seems you guys made more progress yesterday when I wasn’t here” iconic Hollywood director Robert Altman tells the Resurrection Blues cast in a rehearsal report published in the Old Vic programme. By the end of a surprisingly shaky evening, I was beginning to wonder if wise old Altman really ought to have gone the distance and abandoned his actors to get on with making the most of this messy satire on the loss of faith in an age of mediocre mass media morality, eventually completed by Miller just one month before he died.
No one can deny that Kevin Spacey’s Old Vic has given this final statement by one of the giants of 20th-century drama its best shot. When you’ve assembled the likes of Neve Campbell, Jane Adams, James Fox, Matthew Modine and Maximilian Schell, put them to work on an ingenious bunker-like set created by old Broadway hand Robin Wagner, and then invited Altman on board, sparks of creativity really ought to be flying all over the place. Instead, the dream ticket has ended up as Resurrection Blues – the director’s cut, with all the comedy outtakes and fluffed scenes left in that could so easily have been abandoned on the rehearsal room floor.
Miller places the action high in the misty mountains of a flaky South American republic where revolution is stirring the poncho-wearing peasants living under the thrall of a messiah-like rebel leader who doesn’t exactly walk on water, considering the altitude, but at least walks through stone walls and appears at will in the form of a glowing heavenly light. This self-styled son of God has been captured by the bombastic, but sexually impotent, local dictator who arranges a spectacular mountain-top crucifixion and sells the television rights to fill the country’s coffers, put pipes in the sewers and send the local prostitutes to the dentist.
“Once it’s televised, there’ll be tour buses bumper to bumper across the Andes,” crows Schell’s blustering General Felix. Yet once the play gets under way, there’s bumper to bumper confusion across the board as Miller’s text veers between high old cartoon capers in the Andes, heady farce and a deep save-the-planet ‘message’ play signaling, as only he can, the importance of belief and faith in cynical times.
Nevertheless, despite it’s obvious problems, there is much to relish, especially Schell’s absurd cardboard cut-out dictator with a shrunken willie and Modine’s fresh-faced American media man who can only see the world in terms of photo opportunities and CNN mega-bucks, while Campbell has some good moments as a revolutionary who can’t face real life, as does Adams as a gushing television director with a right-on conscience. Fox, playing Felix’s philosophical cousin, seems to have strolled in from a completely different play. Still, Miller does throw some chinks of light on the curious world we live in today, even if it’s not divine.
- Roger Foss