The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

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Photo: Joan Marcus Review
If you’re the sort of person who goes to the theater to escape reality, then head far away from Classic Stage Company, where artistic director John Doyle is helming Bertolt Brecht’s “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.” Originally penned in 1941, but not seen in America until the 1960s, the work, which chronicles the rise to power of a fictional gangster during the Great Depression, is a rather obvious allegory about fascism, with specific references in the script – and Doyle’s staging -- to the ascent of Adolf Hitler in Germany.

Topical? But wasn’t that over 70 years ago, you may ask? Well (thanks in no small part to one costume accessory) the piece is now also being played as a cautionary tale about the danger of having the power-hungry Donald Trump as our leader. Unsurprisingly, Doyle’s decision to summon us to the present turns out to be one of the show’s biggest pluses – especially since dramatically, the text can be a tad confusing at times (what’s all the talk about cauliflower?) and, as Brecht plays often are, feel extremely heavy-handed.

But the production’s biggest asset is four-time Tony Award nominee Raul Esparza, making a long-overdue return to the stage, in the title role: the self-described “simple boy from Brooklyn” who through determination and manipulation becomes a major force to reckon with in Chicago.

Intriguingly, Esparza plays some of the role for outright, even surprising comedy; the scene in which he learns to walk like an actor is pricelessly funny. But he also deftly captures the amorality and ambition of a man who doesn’t think twice about killing friends and strangers alike. (The character’s non-physical resemblance to Richard III is explicit in the script, and there are hints of Shakespearean dialogue throughout the play). And, in Esparza’s stirring vocal delivery, UI’s final oration is absolutely chilling capable of prodding crowds into cheers and acceptance; he’s a much more compelling speaker than our 45th president.

If no one else on stage quite rises to Esparza’s level, kudos still belong to Christopher Gurr, equally effective as the initially moral Dogsborough and the extremely upright Dullfeet, both of whom try to take down Arturo; Thom Sesma, who is positively creepy as his henchman Givola, a so-called florist (Doyle’s use of rose petals to signify death is an inspired touch in this otherwise minimalist staging); and Omoze Idehenre, who shines in a variety of smaller portraits.

Conversely, the sometimes leaden quality of Brecht’s dialogue is often exacerbated by the delivery of such fine actors as Elizabeth Davis, Eddie Cooper, Mahira Kakkar and George Abud, all of whom turn in surprisingly disappointing performances that also blunt the play’s impact.

Nonetheless, political junkies may indeed find, that even with its flaws, “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” to be irresistible (just as they seem able to watch MSNBC 24/7). Others should proceed to 13th Street forewarned that light entertainment is not the order of the day.
By Brian Scott Lipton

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Raúl Esparza, George Abud, Eddie Cooper, Elizabeth A. Davis, Christopher Gurr, Omozé Idehenre, Mahira Kakkar, and Thom Sesma

Open/Close Dates
Opening 11/14/2018
Closing 12/22/2018

Theatre Info
Lynn F. Angelson Theater
136 East 13th Street
New York, NY 01000