Resurrection Blues, The Old Vic, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

The European premiere of Miller's penultimate play, Resurrection Blues, is a celebrity-studded production by the great American film-maker Robert Altman. But I'm afraid that Miller did not have a natural gift for freewheeling satire and the dearth of mirth is aggravated by the negligent direction. On the few occasions that I laughed, it was because of the near-surreal degree to which the production was misfiring.

The play asks us to imagine the possible consequences if a revolutionary Messiah-like figure were to emerge from the oppressed peasantry in a fictitious South American banana republic. The military dictator (a disastrously miscast Maximilian Schell) thinks he can kill two birds with one stone - frighten the Saviour's followers by crucifying him and rescue the economy by selling the screen rights to a New York advertising company.

The return of Christ as a rebuke to contemporary values is a subject with a long tradition. Resurrection Blues endeavours to marry this theme to a satiric attack on the mercenary opportunism of the media.

It doesn't help that the basic premise fails to bear the slightest inspection. True, the death penalty is supported by many, but the long-term effects of allying itself to an act of barbarity would be fatal for any advertising company. Similarly, the military dictatorship could scarcely hit on a better method of ensuring insurrection than by nailing a potential martyr-figure to a cross in front of a global audience. The title, it turns out, partly refers to the erectile dysfunction of the dictator. All too aptly and yet perversely, it's the prospective director of the crucifixion footage (Jane Adams) who makes things rise again - in the loin department, at any rate. That's the level of the humour.

The distinguished cast look and sound as if they have been allowed to lose faith in themselves and in the material. Their various styles never cohere - how could Schell's rhythm-mangling, Teutonic, terminally unfunny dictator possibly be related to the shame-faced, Anglo-American, terminally unfunny James Fox who plays his intellectual cousin? Everyone - including Matthew Modine as the preppy Madison Avenue executive and Neve Campbell as the General's idealistic niece - gives the impression that they would rather be elsewhere. Another blank from Kevin Spacey's Old Vic regime.

To 22 April (0870 060 6628)

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