Eclipse Theatre presents
Throughout the ages, people have displayed a morbid curiosity in viewing killings. Beheaded, hanged, shot, burned alive, eaten by lions, one man’s assassination is another man’s live entertainment. So, the notion of a televised execution in ‘real time’ isn’t surprising. Jesus Christ, the internet has already done it. Eclipse Theatre presents Resurrection Blues by Arthur Miller. Eclipse Theatre launches their 2010 ‘one playwright – one season’ initiative with a play Miller wrote in 2002. A messiah-type has been imprisoned in an oppressed third world country. To squash the brewing revolution, the dictator decides to crucify the rebel. To bank $75 million, he sells the exclusive televised rights on it. One of the last works in Miller’s extensive portfolio, Resurrection Blues has the premise for a satire exploiting our blood-thirsty- pay-per-view times. Unfortunately, the execution doesn’t nail it to the cross.
What kills the comedy? Arthur Miller flips that switch initially. The concept of a televised execution is probably being pitched to HBO right now. It’s sick but doesn’t have that ludicrous ‘ha-ha’ moment. To turn on the farce quality, Miller needed to create a few dimensional characters with witty dialogue. Instead, he relied on quantity verses quality with nine stereotyped characters vocalizing clichés. Director Nathaniel Swift adds a chorus of three on top of the excessive cast. The trio has multiple functions that enhance or distract depending on the scene. Between scenes, they move a lot of boulders. Not quite living up to his name, Swift has the chorus realign the set’s stone formations during scene transitions. It seems an unnecessary geological decision that adds to rocky pacing.
The show isn’t quite D.O.A.! Swift starts the play with a powerful visual. The entire cast is on stage in a variety of interesting poses. As Nina O’Keefe (Jeanine) delivers her post-suicide attempt monologue, the show’s life has all kinds of possibilities. Who are all these people? What are their stories? Hints of possible lethal injection happen almost immediately when the laughter doesn’t occur. The cast certainly attempts to revive the comedic elements with moments of exaggerated performance. Rebecca Prescott (Emily) and Matt Welton (Felix) are over-the-top embellishers trying to zap the flat lines. Prescott tries for the physical comedy while Welton channels every Paul Giamatti move imaginable. In a small and unnecessary role, Alex Polcyn (Captain) finds the funny in an understated and close proximity way.
WWJD? The imagery of the Jack Brown aka Jesus 2 aka Charlie is interesting. ‘Sometimes he lights up.’ It’s the stilted descriptions of Messiah sightings that lead to an un-risen breadth for the spiritual theme of the show. Not surprising since Miller was an atheist. Resurrection Blues shouldn’t be viewed as a comedy. It’s more like a reality show on stage. The people involved are trying to overcome obstacles to entertain. Depending on your philosophical demeanor, you either root for another season or early termination. I look forward to Eclipse Theatre rising again, After The Fall.