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Review Roundup: Can the Critics Resist Classic Stage's THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI?


The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

Classic Stage's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, starring Raul Esparza, officially opened last night.

Directed by John Doyle, this comical yet disturbing play from one of the greatest political satirists of all time follows a Depression-era Chicago mobster, Arturo Ui, who, with the help of his henchmen, manipulates and murders his way to totalitarian rule of the cauliflower trade. Society, of course, fails to act upon his "resistible rise."

Let's see what the critics are saying...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Mr. Esparza, a performer of wit and fire, doesn't fail to amuse in the role and - when his character roams the audience with the dead eyes of a shark - to chill. He's especially entertaining when Arturo slips into faux-Shakespeare mode, evoking not only Richard III (the obvious parallel), but also Hamlet (for the early, surly Ui) and Macbeth ("Is this a luger I see before me?").

Unlike most English-language productions of Brecht, this one makes sure that all the cast members stay on the same stylistic page. But few people are likely to leave "Arturo Ui" thinking how scary it is in its topicality.

Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: While Doyle's concept isn't always clear, the ensemble work is sharp, especially when Brecht's moments of silliness blend into uncomfortable reality. The rather caustic final line will not be repeated here, but its warning resonates.

Sara Holdren, Vulture: There are more than 30 characters in Brecht's play, and Doyle's eight actors make their leaps dexterously, switching hats as if they're skipping stones. Elizabeth A. Davis is a knife-sharp psychopath as Giri, a gum-smacking assassin who collects the hats of her victims and stands for Hitler's second-in-command, Hermann Göring. George Abud is a nimble, fast-talking delight as both the profit-driven Clark - a high-up in the "Cauliflower Trust," the group of vegetable suppliers that Ui would like to stick with a protection racket - and as the scoop-seeking journalist Ragg. As Betty Dullfeet - wife of a powerful businessman in the neighboring city of Cicero, where Ui wants to expand his rule - Omozé Idehenre makes fun, slinky work of a scene of manipulative flirtation with Esparza's gangster, and later delivers dramatically as she denounces him, Lady Anne-style, over her husband's grave. Cooper's Roma is a lumbering, leering heavy - good with words, but not as enamored of them as Arturo; he prefers guns - and the scene in which his grinning ghost visits his former boss is a creepy Shakespearean treat.

Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: Fortunately, there's Esparza, making a welcome return to the NYC stage after prosecuting criminals for so many years on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. (He previously worked with Doyle to wide acclaim on the latter's 2006 Broadway revival of Company.) The actor tears into his meaty role with gusto, delivering his lines rapid-fire fashion with a Bowery Boys accent and infusing his portrayal with generous doses of humor. Indeed, Esparza frequently induces more laughs than the script calls for, such as in his delivery of Arturo's response when Roma informs him, "Nobody cares enough to bump you off."

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Esparza's Arturo Ui keeps his eyes wide shut, plus he exudes rank stupidity. The character's most violent harangues, and there are many, often spring from the campiest of retorts. One moment, Esparza is stuck wallowing in Arturo Ui's seemingly playful narcissism; the next, he's a fire-breathing monster in full command. It's a magnificently indulgent performance.

The other actors appear to be performing in either "Richard III" or "Chicago." Doyle's double-casting of roles and his muddling of time, place and relationships doesn't help audiences unfamiliar with "Arturo Ui" follow the story.

David Finkle, New York Stage Review: Doyle's wanting to throw shade on the Trump administration is clear and commendable. Nevertheless, it's debatable whether the busy-busy Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui-despite the often-vouchsafed opinion that it's a masterpiece-is the play to do it with.

Helen Shaw, TimeOut: Happily, most of the players are extremely strong, especially Omozé Idehenre and Mahira Kakkar, who make their multiple roles shine. The headline, though, is Ui, Ui, Ui, and no one really comes close to Esparza, who whiplashes between moods. He goofs around like a kid, plays broad, whacks the role with some commedia shtick-and then, when he decides to be menacing, he electrifies the room. The play weakens in the second half, when Brecht leans so heavily on Richard III that his own play cracks, but I'd still recommend it. So much of this difficult, angry play is actually a great entertainment: the tommy-gun dialogue, the sound of Brecht's allegory snapping past you, the highfalutin Shakespeare puns. And, of course, Ui. You laugh at him, you fear him, you realize you know him. You certainly can't resist him.

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