The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

Bertolt Brecht isn't performed much anymore, except in academic settings and in occasional adventuristic forays by off-Main Street theatre companies willing to forego cash flow to make a statement, refusing to contribute to fascism through self-censorship.

In watching this clever parable and deconstruction of Hitler's rise to power, anyone who has been paying attention would notice immediately that if such a play alluded to our current situation in America, conservatives and liberals alike would join together to call it the work of "conspiracy theorists," as if such ad hominem attacks are anything more than pitiful attempts at name-calling to distract us from the facts.

So, read further at your own risk, since facts are the best antidote for appeasement.

Jessica Robblee as Flake and Jim Hunt as Sheet
Jessica Robblee as Flake
and Jim Hunt as Sheet
Photo: Erin Preston
Brecht sets the story in Chicago because his audience was familiar with the tactics that Windy City mobsters used to seize power. Layered upon this, the playwright interjects a series of banners that delineate the parallels to Nazi tactics and the rise of Hitler in Germany.

The play originally called for 30 actors, but director Brian Freeland whittles this down to a cast of five, in doing so clarifying the manipulative psychological and social patterns that permit such tyrannical calamities to happen.

Josh Hartwell as Arturo Ui
Josh Hartwell as Arturo Ui
Photo: Erin Preston
Josh Hartwell rightfully underplays the insidious proclamations and threats of Arturo Ui (pronounced oo'-ee), leaving it to the audience to discover for itself what Hannah Arendt called "the banality of evil." Terry Burnsed, Jim Hunt, Ken Witt, and Jessica Robblee mix and match styles, dialects, and idiosyncracies to flesh out the cautionary tale.

Though Brecht's message is unmistakeable, the presentational style and tone of the piece is more sophisticated than mere agit-prop. Freeland and his design team of Julie Rada and Eric Meyer use mannequins, conforming period costumes, and a unique, actor-actualized lighting grid to underscore how the behavior of large populations can be orchestrated through fear and mass hysteria.

Freeland, whose impressive interpretations and adaptations include 1984 and The Merchant of Venice (The Merchant of Auschwitz) maintains a light hand, avoiding the obvious parallels to the Bush-Cheney coup d'état, including murder, staged events (the Reichstag fire and 9-11), stolen elections, gutting of the Constitution, imperialist wars, and torture. The New World Order has learned their lessons well, after all they financed Hitler, provided him with fuel during the war, and hired half his spies to work for the CIA:

Therefore learn how to see and not to gape. To act instead of talking all day long. The world was almost won by such an ape! The nations put him where his kind belong. But don't rejoice too soon at your escape - The womb he crawled from still is going strong.

Countdown to Zero's production of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui runs through June 14th. 720-221-3821.

Bob Bows


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