REVIEW BY JESS MELVIN
The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui
A play by Bertolt Brecht
Directed by Erin Thomas
PACT Theatre, Erskineville, Sydney. October 7-30
Tickets $24/$18, bookings (02) 9699 344
Concession tickets available for Green Left Weekly readers.
"If anyone is not for us, he's against us and only has himself to blame", declares Bertolt Brecht's character Arturo Ui.
Ui is a charismatic and powerful leader who in spite of his lack of political background and brutish ways (he is just a poor "boy from the Bronx") manages to demand loyalty from his followers and grow into a force that will stop at nothing.
Brecht wrote The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui in 1941 Finland, after exiling himself and his family from Germany in 1933. It is a parable of the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party, relocated to 1930s Chicago. In true Brechtian style the current production of the play was conceived in response to the invasion of Iraq and the unelected and aggressive leadership of US President George Bush today. So once again, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui becomes a contemporary allegory to question state power. Director Erin Thomas explained to Green Left Weekly: "We saw the parallels between German government in the 30s and the US government now."
What emerges is a passionate and involving performance.
Brecht combines cutting Marxist analysis with satire to lay bare the motives of his characters, something that has baffled censors and critics alike for the last 60 years, many of whom urge that if Brecht was "just to lose his Marxism" his plays would somehow become more acceptable. But it is Brecht's analysis that makes his work so powerful to begin with — something that both the German and US censors could agree on.
In 1941 Brecht sailed to the US and in 1945 he was hauled before McCarthy's House Committee on Un-American Activities and interrogated. He was able to outwit the committee through using the same wordsmithery that had allowed him to speak out and survive the rise of Nazi Germany. When the committee chairman read a translation of one of Brecht's poems, he shrewdly replied to questioning that "I wrote a German poem, but it was very different from this". Indeed Brecht was so successful in his defence that the committee thanked him for being an exemplary witness.
Brecht moves beyond the idea of theatre as mere entertainment to it becoming a tool for positive change. It was Brecht who said: "Who struggles can fail, who doesn't struggle has already failed." The epilogue of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui urges us to "act instead of talking all day long".
Like Brecht, Thomas believes that theatre can be a voice for social change. "The best thing about Brecht's work is how clever and funny it is and its ability to make us laugh while making us think."
The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is as irresistible as ever.
Green Left Weekly readers are being offered concession-priced tickets.
From Green Left Weekly, October 20, 2004.
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