BWW Review: THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI Massively Misinterpreted
THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI is a 1941 play by German playwright Bertolt Brecht. Using satire, it tells of the rise of Arturo Ui, a ruthless fictional 1930's Chicago mobster and his takeover of "the cauliflower racket" by disposing of all who oppose him. It is meant to be an allegory on the rise to power of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany. The play was written in Helsinki, Finland while Brecht was awaiting entry into the United States after fleeing Germany and was not produced on the stage until 1958. It would be 1961 before it was produced in English. Brecht intended all along that the play was to be produced for the American stage. The play is often compared to the film The Great Dictator (1940), which also featured an absurd parody of Hitler.
All the characters and groups in the play have direct real life counterparts. Ui represents Hitler; his henchman Roma represents Ernst Röhm, the head of the Nazi brownshirts; Dogsborough represents General von Hindenburg, the President of the Weimar Republic; Giri represents Göring, Hitler's second in command; Givola represents Joseph Goebbels; the Cauliflower Trust represents the Prussian Junkers; and the fate of the town of Cicero represents the Anschluss, which brought Austria into the Third Reich. The play is constructed so that every scene has a real life event counterpart as well. The Warehouse fire represents the Reichstag fire and the Dock Aid Scandal represents the Osthilfeskandal scandal.
THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI is an example of Brecht's Epic Theater, a theatrical movement which responded to the political climate of the time by creating a new political theatre. Opening with a prologue that directly addresses the audience it outlines all the major characters and explains the basis of the upcoming plot. This is a device designed to allow the audience to focus on the message rather than the plot. Similarly, it closes with an epilogue that asks the audience to "see the horror in the heart of farce." Even the play's stage directions call for the use of signs or projections that present the audience with relevant information about Hitler's rise to power so as to clarify the parallels between the fictional and the actual. The play even references Shakespeare to underscore Brecht's message. To highlight Ui's evilness, he is explicitly compared to Richard III. Hitler's highly practiced public speaking is referenced when Ui is tutored by an actor in how to walk, sit and speak, including reciting Mark Antony's famous speech from Julius Caesar.
Satire, by definition, is "the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues". Satire is meant to be a parody or burlesque of life through the use of caricature and lampoon. In our current political climate, THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI offers a unique opportunity to hold up for derision the bread and circus side show we are all witnessing.
Sadly, as directed by David Long, this is an opportunity that has been completely missed. Instead of satirical humor, he delivers a piece of agit-prop theatre that is flat and humorless. There is no farce to be seen here, making the epilogue cryptic. How can you "see the horror in the heart of farce" when all you have witnessed is horror without the slightest hint of farce? Long's direction is a complete disservice to Brecht's brilliant satire and the stylistic approach of Epic Theater itself.
Technically, there is some impressive work on display, notably the scene design of Leilah Stewart, the lighting design of Natalie George and the new jazz score composed by Peter Stopschinski. It is hard to even address the actors because they and the piece were so misdirected that I'm not even going to try. To even attempt to do so would be unfair to them.
THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI could have been a brilliant and timely examination of our current political climate. Instead it is a heavy handed horror show without the slightest hint of wit or humor.
Running time: Approximately Two Hours and Fifteen Minutes with one intermission.
THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI, produced by St. Edward's University at Mary Moody Northen Theatre (3001 S Congress Ave, Austin, TX, 78704)
Sept. 29 - Oct. 9, 2016
Wednesdays - Saturdays 7:30 p.m., Sundays 2:00 pm.
Box Office: 512-448-8484. Box Office hours are 1 -5 p.m. Monday- Friday when classes are in session and one hour prior to curtain.