Resurrection Blues (2002) is Arthur Miller's penultimate play. Though Miller was not known for his humor, this play uses a pointed comedic edge to intensify his observations about the dangers, as well as the benefits, of blind belief: political, religious, economic and emotional.
The story is set in an unnamed Latin American country that is painfully third world. The plot revolves around a captured prisoner who may or may not be the second coming of Christ, though Miller deliberately leaves the divinity of his unseen protagonist ambiguous. He is said to be able to perform miracles such as walk through walls, a major problem for the prison guards, and, because his popularity among the impoverished citizens, the military dictator of the nation has sentenced him to be crucified. This creates many moral dilemmas with the play's cast of characters, which include a wealthy land-owner who is the cousin of the dictator, his depressed daughter—a close friend of the accused—and an American television production team that arrives to broadcast the crucifixion.
The plot has six central characters:
- General Felix Barriaux - the dictator of the country who orders the crucifixion. For a dictator, he is a poignant and witty character who holds some sympathy for the audience despite his obsession with money and power. He has been played by actors ranging from Munson Hicks to Maximilian Schell.
- Henri Schultz - cousin to Felix and owns a large chain of pharmaceutical companies, but is reluctant to be a businessman and retires to teach philosophy. He once joined a revolutionary group to fight against Felix but it was unsuccessful. Ironically there is still a familial bond of friendship between Felix and himself and he spends the play trying to dissuade Felix from the crucifixion. He has been played by James Fox to Patrick Husted.
- Jeanine Schultz - daughter of Henri, she is a modern form of Mary Magdalen as she is in love with the man about to be crucified and opens the play having tried to commit suicide. She too was caught up with the revolution but when her father gave up, she held on to the spirit her comrades were shot by Felix when they were captured, but she was spared. She has been played by Patricia Ageheim to Neve Campbell.
- Skip L. Cheesboro - the producer of the American television special that is to made about the crucifixion. He is a no-nonsense man who, in his own words, admits that "some of us have to be shallow so others can be deep." He has been played by Doug Wert to Matthew Modine.
- Emily Shapiro - the TV special's director who is, at the beginning of the play, unaware of the crucifixion. It is suggested that a relationship with Skip may have existed but when she finds out about the crucifixion, she is shocked and repulsed by Skip for even suggesting filming it. She then has a relationship with Felix whom she begs to call off the crucifixion. She is seen to be the voice of reason within the play and has been played by Gretchen Egolf to Jane Adams.
- Stanley - a disciple to the prisoner and is interrogated by Felix when he escapes. A self-proclaimed hippie, he addresses the approachability of 'Christ' saying that he himself in unsure whether he is Christ or not. He produces a lot of wit at the same time as introducing new ideas. He has been played by Douglas Rees to Peter McDonald.
Other characters include the filming crew, an omnipresent military and the captain of the police who is respectful of Henri Schultz because of his wealth.
World premiere in Minneapolis
Resurrection Blues originally premiered August 9, 2002, at Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, Minnesota, under the artistic direction of Joe Dowling. This world premiere was directed by Minnesota native David Esbjornson. Arthur Miller chose the Guthrie Theater for the play's debut, citing the quality of its audiences and the outdatedness of premiering a play on Broadway. Miller continued to work on the script up until his death in 2005 although the Minneapolis production of the original script fared far better than the later production at the Old Vic in London.
The playwright's revisions were very successful at the 2004 west coast premiere at The Old Globe in San Diego under the direction of Mark Lamos. Mr. Miller worked with the director and cast through the rehearsal process to find a more straightforward message than in the previous production. The production starred Daniel Davis, John de Lancie, Chris Henry Coffey, Bruce Bohne, Dana Slamp and Jennifer Regan.
Its UK premier was in 2006 under the artistic direction of Kevin Spacey at the Old Vic. The play was directed by veteran film director Robert Altman. Echoing much of Spacey's reign at the Old Vic, it suffered mass criticism despite boasting a famous cast that included James Fox, Maximilian Schell and Neve Campbell. It was forced to close early especially after the actress playing Emily (the American film director) left the production. Spacey said the cast suffered from "nerves the like of which I've never seen".
Actors' fund reading
An independent theatre company called Fancy Bred Theatre produced a special reading of Resurrection Blues as a fundraiser for the Actors' Fund of Canada, in February 2009, in Winnipeg, Canada. The reading was staged in a very physically animated style, and it ran for three nights before 180 people. The production, featuring many well-known professional local artists, focused mainly on the comedy and absurdities of the script. Audience reception was overall very positive, and the production was a great success. Some audience members even mentioned that the wordy script worked much better in a reading than in a fully mounted show.
The reading was directed by Rodrigo Beilfuss. The cast included Sarah Constible, Michelle Boulet, Omar Khan, Toby Hughes, James Johnston, and Cory Wojcik.
The Eclipse Theatre Company produced the Chicago debut of Resurrection Blues as part of its 2010 season, which focused on Arthur Miller. Eclipse Theatre, known for its "one playwright, one season" approach, also mounted After the Fall and A Memory of Two Mondays. Their fully staged production of the play' was directed by Nathaniel Swift and featured Nina O'Keefe, Ron Butts, Matt Welton, Joe McCauley, Rebecca Prescott, and J. P. Pierson. Reviewer Paige Listerud wrote, "A little miracle is taking place at the Greenhouse Theatre Center—Eclipse Theatre is brilliantly executing a late and oft misunderstood play by Arthur Miller ."
- Billington, Michael (April 13, 2006). "'I knew we'd be put under a microscope'". The Guardian. Retrieved August 28, 2006.