A sleazy, ignorant thug whose physical presence seems almost a cartoon achieves massive fame and seizes power in spite of reasonable people warning the public that he is dangerous.
Is it a possible future? Well, it is history. And, as George Santayana, often misquoted, said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Do not forget, Adolf Hitler was such a creature, and his society helped him get where he went. See him personified at Bluebarn Theatre in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Bertolt Brecht’s blunt picture of a citizenry hoodwinked by image-makers, then dominated by such a deadly hoodlum and his vicious gang. Black comedy, satire, parody and spoof all come to the fore.
In our faces are American gangsters, the kind so often personified in 1930s movies. Get it, pal? Hitler and his mob flourished in the real 1930s. Brecht uses that theme to parallel key moments in the Nazis’ ascendancy in those same years. “Ui is a parable play, written with the aim of destroying the dangerous respect commonly felt for great killers. The circle described has been deliberately restricted,” Brecht explained. “This is enough to achieve the desired objective,” adding that he did not “pretend to give a complete account of the historical situation.” Certainly though, you can identify Hitler plus Göring, Goebbels and Röhm as Ui’s henchmen Giri, Givola and Roma. And Chancellor von Hindenburg is paralleled as Dogsborough.
Brecht’s style is well-known for eschewing realism and, instead, depicting detached behavior by characters taking inevitable steps. The hardline Marxist stated his aim: “Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, rather it is a hammer with which to shape it.”
The Guardian described the work as “an extended Monty Python sketch with Shakespearean tragedy thrown in whose final, chilling moments remind us that this is no laughing matter.” In fact, you can readily find suggestions of Richard III, borrowed phrases, suggestions of Macbeth, even a speech by Mark Antony, plus the use of iambic pentameter.
The translation of the 1941 script is from 1976 by English writer Ralph Manheim who, actually, had translated Mein Kampf when Hitler was at the height of his power. Manheim, by the way, deliberately replicated Der Führer’s grotesque grammatical errors and non sequiturs.
Director Susan Clement -Toberer has underscored the almost vaudevillian potential of the production by having some of the 17-person cast performing on musical instruments, and intends to be more contemporary by using videography.
“Our task is to examine the relevance, resonance and connection to what is happening in our world politically in this funny, frightening and accessible, but cumulatively rather shocking play,” she pointed out. “The extremist politics that exist today are worth delving into, looking at the themes and ideas through a slapstick tragedy, relevant wherever totalitarianism appears today.”
You’ve been warned.
The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is performed Sept. 22-Oct 16 at Bluebarn Theatre, 1106 South 10th St. Thurs.-Sat.: 7:30 p.m., Sun: Oct.2,9,16: 6 p.m. Tickets: $25-$30. www.bluebarn.org