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Off-Broadway Review—Brecht’s “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” with Raúl Esparza

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui 

Written by Bertolt Brecht; translated by George Tabori; directed by John Doyle

Performances through December 22, 2018



Raul Esparza in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui (photo: Joan Marcus)


Bertolt Brecht wrote his mordant anti-Nazi satire, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, in 1941 while living in Finland, waiting for his visa so he could enter the United States. Perhaps looking forward to leaving, Brecht set his play in Chicago, and its lead gangster (who’s from New York) takes over the lucrative “cauliflower trust” and rises to the top of the windy city’s underworld.


For his own tRump-era take, director John Doyle uses George Tabori’s serviceable translation and adds unnecessary parallels to both Hitler and tRump: a spoken timeline of what was happening in Germany on the road to dictatorship has been inserted, and we periodically hear “Sieg heils” intoned, just in case the dimmest member of the audience doesn’t get the connection. Doyle’s most effective touch is turning those creepy shouts into a final, tRumpian “lock her up.”


Doyle also doesn’t have his Arturo Ui—played by the vibrant and charismatic Raúl Esparza—look like tRump in any way, except for a nice bit during Ui’s climactic rise-to-ultimate-power speech when he wears a red tie. The dazzling Esparza turns on the charm and the exaggerated Brooklyn accent as he badgers, cajoles and convinces his followers and enemies how much his “protection” will improve their lives. 


Doyle has staged Ui as an ensemble piece, letting all cast members share in narrating the Hitler timeline, although his double- and triple-casting a few of the roles might confuse those in the audience unfamiliar with Brecht’s play. But Esparza guides us thrillingly through a blackly funny tale made all the darker by, in Brecht’s final warning, the fact that it could be happening again. And no amount of gallows humor will save us.


The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui 

Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street, New York, NY

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