It was one of the most hotly anticipated play openings of the year (See News, 8 Sep 2005), but after a critical mauling and disappointing houses, Resurrection Blues - the UK premiere of Arthur Miller’s second-to-last play, directed by legendary filmmaker Robert Altman - has posted early closing notices at the Old Vic, where there are currently no further productions scheduled until September (See The Goss, 29 Mar 2006).

Resurrection Blues opened at the Old Vic on 2 March 2006 (previews from 14 February) and had been booking until 22 April. It will now finish on 15 April, one week earlier than planned.

While demand for tickets to the production – which features Hollywood stars Neve Campbell and Matthew Modine, Australian-born Academy Award winner Maximilian Schell, Broadway’s Jane Adams and Britons James Fox and Peter McDonald (See News, 3 Jan 2006) – was initially high, the box office slumped after largely disparaging reviews. A “terrible embarrassment” (Charles Spencer, Daily Telegraph), “clumsily inept, poorly acted” (Michael Billington, Guardian), “bizarrely awful” (Paul Taylor, Independent) and “a chunk of satirical-religious anecdotage” (Nicholas de Jongh, Evening Standard) were amongst some of the descriptions in the newspapers the night after the press performance (See News, 6 Mar 2006).

A satire of cultural commercialisation, global politics and media saturation, Resurrection Blues, which Miller was rewriting in the weeks before he died in February (See News, 11 Feb 2005), received its world premiere at Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater in 2002. It’s set in an unnamed South American country where a young rebel heralded as a messiah is gathering support from the downtrodden masses. When the government’s dictator captures the man and decides to crucify him, a New York-based TV company swoops in to vie for the broadcast rights.

The production marks the UK stage debut of the 81-year-old Altman, whose many screen classics have included MASH, Brewster McCloud, Nashville, The Long Goodbye, The Player, Short Cuts, Prêt-à-Porter, Cookie’s Fortune and Gosford Park. It’s designed by Robin Wagner, with costumes by Jenny Beavan, lighting by Rick Fisher and sound by Matt Mackenzie.

No productions have been announced to follow Resurrection Blues. It’s still unclear if – and for how long – the Old Vic may go dark. Last autumn, when artistic director Kevin Spacey announced his second year (See News, 8 Sep 2005), there was a hole in the schedule from May through August. He said at the time that there were “several balls in the air”, but that an announcement would be made before the end of the year about what they would produce.

A spokesperson for the Old Vic told Whatsonstage.com today that the theatre is still working out its summer programming. The next scheduled production is Howard Davies’ revival of Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten, starring Spacey, who won a clutch of awards in Davies’ 1998 staging of O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh. It’s due to open in September, although final dates have still not been confirmed and booking has not yet opened.

- by Terri Paddock