Miller’s play introduces a Christ-like figure into the modern world, as a repressive Latin American country prepares for a grand spectacle - the crucifixion of a popular rebel who has captured the attention of the common people. Many have been changed by their encounters with this man, miracles witnessed. General Felix Barrieux orders a crucifixion, a prompt response to the temporary celebrity of this man and a lesson for the citizens: “A crucifixion always quiets things down.”
The general is confronted by his cousin, wealthy industrialist Henri Shultz, who has come from his daughter’s side after her failed suicide attempt. Henri’s daughter has been profoundly influenced by the man her country wants to crucify; now he is trying to convince Felix of the foolhardiness of his plan: “People are desperate for someone this side of the stars who feels their suffering himself.”
But Felix holds in his hand a contract for seventy-five million dollars, the bid of a US advertising group to film the event. This enormous sum can purchase significant changes for a poor country, and Felix is dazzled by the offer, ignoring Henri’s assertions that frequent commercial breaks will hawk sundry products during the event. In case of trouble, the general has ordered troops to the site, prepared to ward off any demonstrations.
By the time the Americans arrive at the scene, a cross has been erected and nails are at the ready. Rhapsodizing over the striking view, imagining American-made SUVs filmed against the backdrop of mountains and blue sky, the director balks when she learns she will be filming a man’s death, her aesthetic principles affronted.
When the rebel escapes custody, there is no great concern; the man can be easily recaptured. Soon Stanley, an apostle, appears, explaining that the rebel is waffling under pressure - ambivalent, compelled to meet his fate, but also wishing for the life of a mortal man without the burden of the mantle of son of God. In danger of failure, Felix’s project is fraught with problems.
The general is caught between avarice (on behalf of his country, of course) and fear of the citizen’s reactions; the Americans envision enormous box office profits from exclusive rights, the greatest coup in modern reality television. And those inspired by the actions of the rebel are sorely tempted by the promised advantages to their fortunes in rising property values and increased tourist traffic to the region.
In Miller’s drama, history repeats itself in modern garb, set in a world where every event has a price. The ubiquitous media is at the ready; even the main character unwilling to commit to his part in the play. Greed is the great motivator, an insidious infestation rooted in today’s world. Henri is abject in the new face of humanity, where profit determines morality: “The world will never again be changed by heroes.”