Monday, July 9, 2018

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

The playwright of The Resistible Rise of Auturo Ui never saw his show produced.  Just prior to WWII and weirdly during it then for years after the play proved too controversial.  Or not so weirdly, given how uncomfortable the central premise...

Ui (pronounced "Oo-ee") is a gangster in Chicago, during the Depression when the genre of mob bosses began to take its modern form.  In a series of skits/scenes, in many ways a blend of clown show, cabaret and gangster movie, we watch members of the Califlower Trust--a group of corrupt businessmen--try to make a deal with the seemingly incorruptible Dogsburough (Troy Dunn) and through a slippery trick to compromise him.  At this point the gangster Ui (Andrew Loviska) slides into the whole process offering "protection" for various shop-owners and businessmen.  Via violence, charisma, a total lack of integrity or scruples coupled with bottomless vanity and greed, we witness an analog of Hitler's rise.

One may wonder, where the controversy?  Mostly from the deeply uncomfortable criticism of capitalism.  Americans don't generally understand how the Third Reich was born.  They want to blame Hitler as some unique Satanic master of mesmerism, as if that explains millions of people not only voting for but collaborating with the man.  Or point to the word "Socialist" in the Nazi Party's name, ignoring the way captains of industry openly supported and profited from Hitler's regime.

That way, they (or we) can pretend it could not possibly happen here.  We can go on acting as if Hitler were a one-of-a-kind problem, instead of a particularly loathesome symptom of a greater problem.

Arturo Ui shows us precisely how yes It Can Happen Here.  Worse (in some eyes) how it already has.  More than once.

City Garage's production captures many of the tricks and skillful theaticalities Brecht worked into his plays.  We never wholly accept this world of an alternate Chicago, but then we aren't meant to.  The details jar because they are designed for that effect--not once should the audience ever get too comfortable.  Never should they feel at the expense of thinking.  When a murder trial turns into a horrific mockery of justice, up to the open drugging of the defendant lest he defend himself, and witnesses threatening the judge from the witness stand, we can hardly look away.  It stirs a dreadful fear based on an oft-ignored truth--the rules only matter so long as we actively protect them.  Likewise when Ui all-but-rapes a widow (Lindsay Plake) at the funeral of the man Ui had murdered, we actively wonder--how can he be stopped?

Just as we are supposed to.

The play may seem off-putting to many, given its over-the-top style and message about a subtle as a sledgehammer.  Others may simply agree with its allegory about America (including America today) and Germany during the rise of the Third Reich.  On the level of being smoothly entertaining, with a uniformity of style, and some kind of emotional climax, the play simply fails.  But that seems much like complaining a dentist didn't make you a gourmet meal.  Such is not his or her job.  Just as this play is not at all intended to sooth or allow anyone to escape thinking.  It is intended to disturb, which it does, often in ways that prove very compelling to watch.

Other standouts in the cast include Angela Beyer as a variety of roles, most obviously the scantily class Emcee, and Lindsay Sawyer who (like most of the cast) has many roles, up to and including a grimly obvious victim of violence whom the audience watches murdered (in a nice touch, from the angle it seems certain the gunfire cutting her down comes from the audience).  Others in the cast include Clifford Irvine, Michael Cortez, Nathaniel Lynch, Geraldine Fuentes, Beau Smith, Sandy Mansson and Trace Taylor.

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 8pm through August 12, 2018, at City Garage, Building T1, 2525 Michigan Ave (across the street from the Bergamot Train Station) Santa Monica CA 90404.

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