THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI by Bertolt Brecht (Red Light District). At the Great Hall Black Box (1087 Queen.
THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI by Bertolt Brecht (Red Light District). At the Great Hall Black Box (1087 Queen West). To December 7. $20-$25. See listings. Rating: NNNN
This engaging remount of Brecht’s famous gangster allegory about the rise of Hitler joins the growing list of revivals inspired by Rob Ford’s shady behaviour.
Back in the summer, Shakespeare in the Ruff wowed with a prescient update of Richard III that delivered the title character’s political scheming and ruthless skullduggery with a wink and a nod to City Hall. Here, true to epic theatre form, Ted Witzel uses projected text to explicitly encourage links beyond Chicago mobsters and Nazis, extending Brecht’s alarm over power-grab politics and cults of personality to more recent phenomena like 9/11 and Ford Nation.
Fresh from helming this summer’s well-received reworking of Taming Of The Shrew in High Park, Witzel’s the perfect choice to bring Brecht’s voice to bear on contemporary problems. Not only has he spent the past decade breathing new life into nearly forgotten gems like Georg Buchner’s Woyzeck and 17th century revenge play The Witch Of Edmonton, but he also spent years in Germany studying under Brecht’s granddaughter Johanna Schall. This adds up to a very authentic-feeling 1930s cabaret-style production.
He’s helped by a snappy new translation by Jennifer Wise and a strong ensemble of recent grads from York University’s theatre program. That said, Daniela Pagliarello stands out in the role of Hitl…, um, Arturo Ui, the upstart gangster obsessed with cornering Chicago’s cauliflower market. Sounding a bit like Joe Pesci with an adorable speech impediment, Pagliarello nails both the icy moments of silent intimidation and the intense fiery outbursts the Fuhrer was so feared for. Captivating to watch, she’s at her best in one scene when Ui oscillates between begging for and demanding compliance from a rival, and in another where Ui receives PR instruction from a terrified actor.
As in Witzel’s other works, there’s meticulous attention to detail here – both the program and the overhead projections offer lots of great background information – but he’s also taken some fun tongue-in-cheek liberties with the original. Multiple mentions of the “gravy train” are dropped in (they don’t sound out of place) and modern music selections are mixed in with more classical-sounding cuts.
The result hangs together very well, the thinly disguised Nazis coming across as funny, instructive and terrifying all at the same time.