Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review: Resurrection Blues

It's late at night, and I find myself reading about the Gulf of Tonkin Incident that led to the Vietnam War. Why? Because earlier this week I saw Arthur Miller's Resurrection Blues, the latest production from No Drama Theatre, and it's a thought-provoking play that lingers in the mind. Miller was perhaps the greatest American playwright of the 20th century, and though Resurrection Blues isn't one of his better-known plays it nonetheless provides a lot to consider.

No Drama are an amateur theatre company who have previously had success with plays such as Ecstasy and Wyrd Sisters. Resurrection Blues is an altogether tougher challenge. Set in a fictional Latin American country ruled by a military dictator, the play is a satire about a captured political prisoner who might or might not be the second coming of Christ. Rather than presenting us directly with the experiences of this Christ-like revolutionary, the play tells us his story through other characters. There's the country's dictator, General Felix Barriaux (Patrick O'Callaghan) and his relatives; an American TV crew; a follower of the messianic protagonist; and of course the omni-present military.

The opening monologue by Janine (Maria Dillon) is one of the best scenes of the play. Henri (David Ryan), the dictator's cousin, also has some wonderful lines; his conversation with American TV producer Skip (Ruairí De Burca) is right at the heart of the play, presenting not only two utterly different views of the world but also looking at the similarities between ancient myth and modern PR as forms of belief.

The characters' accents are something of a puzzle though. Janine and Emily (Sarah Moloney) are both played with accents; other characters much less so. I'm not sure if that's a deliberate choice - is Henri's lack of accent due to his education and travels? - or an inconsistency.

A more serious criticism is that at times the play feels lacking in pace and engagement. I don't think that's due to the production, it's the play itself. Miller's characters' seem intentionally archetypal or even absurd rather than emotionally credible. Their purpose seems to be to create a discussion; their actions are ineffective. The play is an intellectually interesting commentary on our world, and on belief: despite having an element of comedy, partly provided by the background action, this is a play for the head, not the heart.

The previous No Drama plays I've seen have been excellent, and I thoroughly enjoyed (and recommended) both. Resurrection Blues is more complicated: this play is challenging not only for the theatre company but also for the audience. At times, it felt as if members of the audience weren't sure how to react - should we be laughing or horrified? (Perhaps that's how Miller would have wanted it.) If you're looking purely for a traditional narrative and easy laughs this isn't the play for you. On the other hand if you enjoy mulling over an insightful and unusual play, this is worth seeing.

Resurrection Blues continues until Saturday 19th November in the Teachers Club on Parnell Square. Doors open at 7:45 pm and the play starts at 8 pm, running for about 150 minutes including a 15 minute interval. (There's a nice, well-stocked bar.) Tickets cost €12.


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