THE RESISTABLE RISE OF ARTURO UI: A GANGSTER SPECTACLE
October 21, 2016
In another era, maybe just a few years ago, one could sit through this play and not want to shut it down, go off and get drunk. With Trumpism poisoning our systems, few could watch Brecht’s radio drama now without worrying whether history is repeating itself. Certainly his title alone is a call for action - The “Resistible Rise” of a thug. Unlike the noisy wannabe of our time though, Arturo UI, as played by Craig Smith, speaks very quietly. A small menace, he walks slowly, deliberately, calculating the weight and placement of each step. He is Adolf Hitler/Al Capone, someone, unlike our wannabe, who wants to be coached and listens.
John Lenartz, who mostly plays Paul Von Hindenburg, the character of Dogsborough ,the embezzling owner of a shipyard, plays his best card in this epic of a play as an actor called upon by Smith to give him some pointers. From soggy to sober, Lenartz switches from the drunken buffoon we see when he first enters to being a charismatic dazzler. Suddenly he commands the room, his every gesture mesmerizing. He tells Smith to cross his arms across his chest and when to lift his arms up and out. Smith does his first awkward goose steps at Lenatz suggestion.
Produced by Phoenix Theatre Ensemble, THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI, directed by Kevin Confoy is at the Wild Project in the East Village. In between each scene in this small theatre is black and white footage of Hitler and Hindenburg, with large type superimposed over the images shouting out the historical progression in Germany and Austria. This video, as designed by Andrew Lazarow, is projected on the back wall. This play written by Brecht in 1941 is not set in Europe, but rather in 1930’s Chicago, where it follows a suave murderer, calling the shots, defining his territory.
To brighten this grim tale, the able cast have fun giving the look and feel of an old radio station. They begin the first and second act by singing a gum jingle. Ellen Mandel plays the piano on the set, as well as designed the sound, complete with rattling a sheet of metal to suggest the Windy City. Elise Stone, a voluptuous woman with a large presence, who plays Dockdaisy, O’Casey, Woman, Betty Dullfleet, gets the best action - a chance to spit on the gangster and walk out.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Deirdre Towers
— Deirdre Towers