Wednesday, May 12, 2010

UD's "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui"

A cunning and ingenious conceit. From the fecund mind of German playwright Bertolt Brecht sprang an allegory of Hitler's rise to power. The setting was not Germany, but Chicago in the wild wild west of Prohibition and The Great Depression. The protagonist was not Der Fuhrer but a takeoff of Scarface Al Capone, Public Enemy #1, the charismatic colossus of crime. The farce is entitled “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.”
For two years Aisle Say has bellowed to all within earshot of this remarkable gem in our midst is this REP Company. The acting, the direction, the sets, the costumes, the pathos, the sturm und the drang of their productions distances them from other groups in the state as does the night the day.
This play is not done often. It must be coddled in the hands of experts.
You should see this production. You will never forget it; a concoction of perfect play and perfect acting ensemble.
Capone and Hitler had many similarities. Aside from the obvious ruthlessness, paranoia and megalomania, they dominated other men by appealing to their inner man.
“Arturo” is a laugh riot. There are surprise moments catching you unawares and you will bend over in laughter. Most recently a production was staged with Al Pacino in the title role. However, a woman, Carine Montbertrand, plays Arturo here. I commented to her that her facial mannerisms reminded me of Al Pacino as Big Boy Caprice in the movie “Dick Tracy”.
This is an important play. There are few areas of modern theatrical culture that have not felt the impact or influence of Brecht's ideas and practices.
All the characters and groups in the play had direct counterparts in real life; all of Hitler's henchmen. In fact, he wrote it in 1941for the American stage, knowing it would never be staged in Germany during his lifetime. If it had, his lifetime would have been abbreviated.
The play is similar to the classic Charlie Chaplin film, “The Great Dictator”. Brecht was a Chaplin hero. Unfortunately so was Hitler.
The play also uses frequent references to Shakespeare and other writers to further its didactic messages. To highlight his evil and villainous rise to power Ui is compared to Shakespeare's “Richard III” and “MacBeth” in both the introductory prologue and in Scene 14 when he experiences similar visitations from the ghosts of his victims as Richard and Macbeth do; while Hitler's own learned prowess at public speaking is referenced by Ui receiving lessons from an actor which include him reciting Mark Anthony's famous speech from “Julius Caesar”.
Over two years the REP has never delivered a mulligan. Aisle Say has seen them all save for “Death of A Salesman”. (I was depressed during that run and needed no further provocation to mine my neurosis.) Support live theatre in the state. This specific theatrical resource is a tribute to what live theatre can achieve.
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