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Resurrection Blues at the Old Vic

Marion Marples

Robert Altman will have been pleased by the animated response to the press night production of Arthur Miller's Resurrection Blues.

Death is not an obvious subject choice for an enjoyable play. Altman had not read the play before being asked to direct it. He is in his eighties, as was Miller when he wrote the play shortly before his death in 2005. Fear and wonder about death come close.

In this Andean republic death is in the air. A failed revolutionary tries to commit suicide, people are dying in the streets due to lack of health services and water pollution, the all-powerful General Felix Barriaux (Max Schell) is impotent and inclined to shoot all dissidents. His cousin Henri Schulz (James Fox, a latecomer to the production) warns him of an imminent uprising in the mountains, fomented by a young man of many names, but never named or seen, from whom emanates a bright transfixing light and who calls on people to behave better and to be cured. They even light candles for him in the remote villages, as befits a saint. Schultz's daughter is the failed revolutionary suicide and is in love with this Christ-like presence.

Comedy and pace are brought to the story by the concept that the film rights to the imminent crucifixion of the young man have been sold to a New York film director who will use this for advertising a drawerful of actually worthless personal care products. Emily Shapiro (Jane Adams) the neurotic art obsessed director is the key to moving the story on. She is seduced by Barriaux as he confronts his impotence and she persuades him not to go ahead with the crucifixion. The amoral and obnoxious account director, Skip L Cheeseborough (Matthew Modine), seems not to be aware of the original crucifixion. In spite of great one liners on death and the meaning of life I fear that no-one ends up much the wiser.

This is a good play to see during Lent: what is the purpose of life, if not to have a good death?

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