Bertolt Brecht’s skewering of Adolf Hitler and totalitarianism is given a new production directed by John Doyle ("The Color Purple") for Classic Stage Company. More…
In 1930s Chicago, mobster Arturo Ui will stop at nothing to control the cauliflower trade. Terror and bloodshed follow. Can anyone stop him? Written in 1941, the play was one of the Berliner Ensemble’s greatest box office successes.
"As Ui, Esparza is a beast – devouring the stage with his every step, clawing at the air with expressive hands, teasing us with his humor, bullying the audience...Esparza drives the production...Director John Doyle‘s stripped down production intentionally exposes the bones of the play as both text and narrative, without losing any of the through line of the drama...With a riveting performance by Esparza, 'The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui' is devastating. " Full Review
"A sly, fearsome sideshow, a deceptively humble, hugely exciting piece of work...It’s ‘Richard III’ meets Jimmy Cagney by way of the vaudeville circuit, and in the hands of Doyle and his actors, it’s both rollicking and frightening...Esparza is on fire from word one...And he never skips a beat. Doyle smartly pushes the tempo of the genre-rich dialogue...Our heart rates rise as we sit forward in our seats, struggling to hold onto the reins as their plotting and scheming and finagling run amok.” Full Review
"Bravo, I would say, and the Classic Stage Company production does that very job, screaming the good word out to the heavens and beyond. Doyle as the director and designer has meticulously crafted a layout that clangs and bangs itself into place with every turn of the screw...It magnificently and meticulously parallels events and individuals that brought Hitler to power, and foreshadows a future potential that gets scarier by the day." Full Review
"It's great to see Raul Esparza back on a New York stage...especially playing a role that takes advantage of his skill for creating steely tension while hinting at traces of madness...His Arturo Ui has the kind of working class charisma that charms uneducated masses...While Doyle's concept isn't always clear, the ensemble work is sharp, especially when Brecht's moments of silliness blend into uncomfortable reality." Full Review
“Doyle’s production is certainly streamlined, and it boasts a wonderful Ui—Esparza plays the part just at the edge of clowning—but his directorial choices also make this character-crammed epic harder to understand...This is the kind of ride that’s hard to get back on once you’ve fallen off...Happily, most of the players are extremely strong...The play weakens in the second half...But I’d still recommend it. So much of this difficult, angry play is actually a great entertainment.” Full Review
“Brecht's modern classic, a vicious indictment of fascism, is hilariously and chillingly relevant in Doyle's economical staging...The lighting design provides the theatrical spark the staging otherwise eschews; the rest is up to the cast, which, par for the course at Classic Stage, is excellent...’Arturo Ui’ keeps proving relevant...Whether you need some fuel for the fight or just the opportunity to laugh instead of cringing, Classic Stage has you covered for now. Resist!” Full Review
“Doyle offers a minimalist approach. Perhaps a bit too minimalist...It feels like one is watching an early rehearsal...And is more distracting than enveloping. But it does force one to lean forward and listen...Doyle’s eight actors leap from character to character – with a hat or prop emphasizing the change. The minimalism and starkness of the performances is a blessing. The ensemble’s work is sharp fluidly handling both satirical and dramatic moments.” Full Review
"More depressingly relevant than ever...No matter how astutely staged and performed, this is one of Brecht's most passionate plays, but not his best in terms of dramatic sophistication. And Mr. Doyle's trimmed down and extremely minimalist staging style doesn't change that. Still, there's the performance of Raúl Esparza to make a trip to the Classic Stage's 13th Street stage worthwhile." Full Review
"This production is certainly quite Brechtian, but even by these standards it may lack some subtly. The larger issue of the production is a confusion of plot events and characters, which is equally the fault of the play and the director...The play may be dense, the production may be confusing, and direction may be a bit heavy handed, the design too minimal, but Mr. Esparza is perfect." Full Review
“Doyle’s production...is full of enlivening moments of actorly glee. The eight ensemble members here are delightfully resourceful as they become an entire population of corrupt thugs and government officials...Yet all the cast’s resourcefulness isn’t enough to keep confusion and tedium at bay...Esparza doesn’t fail to amuse in the role...What I was most conscious of was the hard-working ingenuity of a director and his creative team trying to elicit sparks from a cumbersome, ice-cold allegory." Full Review
"I did not think transposing Hitler’s rise to the story of a gangster fighting for control of the Chicago cauliflower trust was an apt metaphor...Secondly I had a problem with Tabori’s translation...The quality of the acting varied...As for Esparza, he coped reasonably well with a role that was not a natural fit. The first act builds rather slowly...While a cautionary tale about how fascism develops is certainly welcome today, I don’t feel this is a very effective one.” Full Review
“Sometimes one performance makes a show worth seeing. Doyle’s unfocused staging...opened just in time to make comparisons between Hitler and our current president...Among the actors only Esparza appears to have gotten the memo that Brecht is mixing vegetables and fascism to ridicule Hitler and his boys...It’s a magnificently indulgent performance...Doyle’s double-casting of roles and his muddling of time, place and relationships doesn’t help audiences follow the story.” Full Review
“The staging is awkward, with cast members having to open and set up tables, as well as closing them, and there is a lack of overall smoothness. The strongest element is the casting of Raúl Esparza as the villainous Ui, and when he dramatically gives it his all in his huge second act speech, the play rises to the occasion. Another thing the play has going for it at this particular moment is our own sensitivity to the evil of the current Trump administration.” Full Review
"John Doyle’s sober revival of Bertolt Brecht’s 'The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui' couldn’t be more timely, though whether that timeliness enhances or diminishes its message I can’t quite decide...The production’s stripped-down realism has mixed results. It can pay to highlight Brecht’s stylish extremity. If Doyle vacillates between embracing and undercutting the play’s inherent cartoonishness, it is perhaps because our own daily reality has long since surpassed it." Full Review
“Its relative rarity, and the superb performance by Esparza...are the main reasons to see CSC's revival...The play itself is problematic in both structure and style...The play is difficult to pull off under the best of circumstances. Doyle's stripped-down approach does it no favors...The production lacks vivid atmosphere and feels sluggishly paced. While all the actors are effective one time or another, few of them are successful at carrying off all of their disparate roles.” Full Review
"A mesmerizing Raúl Esparza in the title role in John Doyle’s uneven production...Brecht’s political theory molded into dialogue can be poetic, but in this production comes across as preachy. The brilliant, sarcastic juxtaposition of pseudo-Shakespearean blank verse, dialogue inspired by mobster movies and resulting Jacobean revenge play update was lost...This production muzzles the impact." Full Review
"Esparza confidently mines the script for every available bit of bitter irony and shivery parallels to current politics...Does anyone at CSC really think that a single member of its audience requires updating on the dangers of a corrupt, norm-breaking, fear-mongering, would-be tyrant?...A better, more intensely focused production might highlight strengths that are missing here, but the director, John Doyle, doesn't seem to have a secure grasp of the material." Full Review
"Monochromatically designed, directed, and acted…Staged by John Doyle in his familiar one-style-fits-all minimalist manner…As per Brechtian theory, the house lights remain only slightly dimmed, not the wisest choice for a two-hour production that exposes sleeping spectators and, after the intermission, how many have chosen not to return…It's not always easy to tell who's who or, given the neutrality of Doyle's setting, where anything is taking place." Full Review
"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...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." Full Review
"It has two major challenges. First, the production plays heightened symbolic theater for naturalistic stakes. Second, Doyle upends what ought to be resonant political theater...A play that toys with political metaphor must convey at least some nuance in relation to the events of our world...Doyle delivers heightened sensibilities to the detriment, not a clarifying view, of the core story...Doyle’s production sits uncomfortably astride styles, intents and concepts." Full Review
“It’s blunt, confrontational. It blatantly acknowledges that actors are at work and not necessarily pretending to be taken for the persons they’re playing. Call Doyle’s approach neo-Brechtian. The eight-member cast members tend to blare their lines...As played here, the proceedings are hard to follow in a manner that encourages spectators not even to want to follow...They valiantly give their neo-Brechtian performances but to what avail is in question.” Full Review
"Doyle’s version does little to ameliorate a play rife with didacticism, pretentious faux-Shakespearean speeches, and characters baldly modeled on Adolf Hitler and his cronies...The performers...bring little nuance to the blunt script. The exception is Esparza in the title role...Brecht aficionados may find it worth the effort to add 'Arturo Ui' to their lists, but this tiresome production may discourage those who have never seen Brecht’s great works from giving them a try. " Full Review
"Unfortunately, there's little to cheer in the uneven revival Doyle has mounted...Despite a hard-working cast, and a terrific performance by Esparza as the title character, Doyle's production, which he directed and designed, feels flat and tedious...Sadly, audiences don't need Brecht's play to point out that our current truth is not only stranger than fiction, it's also a hell of a lot scarier, too." Full Review
"And while the lights are sometimes blinding, making it hard to see the players, it's also frequently so dark that they appear obscured, or worse still, become disembodied voices. Indeed, there's so much going on with the lights--or not--that two people (Jane Cox and Tess James) are credited with the lighting design in the digital program, which is the only way the program is available. In so many respects, this can be seen as a user-unfriendly production." Full Review
"Doyle offers no clear vision here, no comparison that might prove genuinely insightful...Now, there is surely rich material to be conceived about the parallels between Hitler and Trump. This half-hearted, rudderless noise is not it." Full Review
See it if You enjoy classic plays with a political edge and social messaging. Mirrors Charlie Chaplin’s classic film The Dictator. The message is
Don't see it if You dislike Shakespearean plays or plays like The Three Penny Opera. Hard to follow and could easily bring on a sudden snooze.
See it if It's a powerful show that is not at all subtle and makes you reflect on our times. Raul Esparza is excellent, as is the ensemble.
Don't see it if You'd prefer something lighthearted without references to a dark time in history.
See it if you love Raul Esparza and John Doyle, you're up for a show that throws our current political climate in your face
Don't see it if on-the-nose or not at all subtle parallels bother you or you don't want a show that makes you concentrate/work for it
See it if You want a tour de force performance from Raul Esparza. He is riveting. The show is good, not great, but relevant to our times.
Don't see it if You don’t like politics, don’t like rhyming couplets, need a big show with big sets, or want light fluffy theater. It’s not a show for all.
See it if a strong, invigorating production of Brecht's allegory with a superb cast headed by Esparza - working with a terrific translation.
Don't see it if if you are not a Brecht fan or find political allegories staged in a stark manner not your cuppa tea
See it if smart political commentary and well-acted character are key to a creative reinterpretation of Brecht's warning
Don't see it if minimalism and honesty about abuses of power are hard to swallow
See it if You want to experience an energetic revival of this Brecht classic. Interesting staging by John Doyle.The ensemble cast is terrific.
Don't see it if The subject matter is not for you.The play requires your complete attention.I noticed several audience members who were asleep.What a shame!
See it if satire of Hitler's rise to power as told thru a story of a Chicago gangster, wonderful portrayal of Ui by Raul Esperza, funny & disturbing
Don't see it if you don't like satire or like your satire subtle; would be confused by actors playing more than one role
See it if This is an excellent, cohesive cast easily handling Brechtian dialogue. Nuance and relationships are not always clear, but the allegory is.
Don't see it if You have any difficulty hearing. The fast pace of the dialog took time to catch. You are not interested in political allegories.
See it if you're deepening your appreciation of Brecht beyond "The Threepenny Opera." Raul Esparza's turn in the title role is deliciously strange.
Don't see it if you go ballistic when the parallels between Trump and Hitler are made evident. To say this production feels timely is an understatement.
See it if you want to see great acting, a very divergent use of the theater's stage and props. See it you're interested in morally corrupt leadership.
Don't see it if you don't want to listen to gangster dialect throughout most of the play. Don't see if you're not interested in morally corrupt leadership.
See it if you're a fan of Brecht or Esparza who is great, enjoy social satires connecting America of today to fascism, pared down casts,
Don't see it if you're not a Brechtian, don't like heavy-handed symbols, find it hard to discern an actor switching characters, bright lights or loud noises
See it if You enjoy a cartoonish struggle between good and evil (with a clear hint to our times) as Esparza & the cast revel in their roles.
Don't see it if You prefer the suspension of disbelief one can have in non-Brecht theater (or you don't like cauliflower).
See it if A strong central performance and a compelling ensemble telling a relevant story make this worthwhile.
Don't see it if But a muddled, somewhat underwhelming production makes the story hard to follow when it isn't bluntly signposted. Still, I was glad I went.
See it if you like the writing of Bertolt Brecht and you want to see a play that parallels the rise of Hitler with Chicago corruption.
Don't see it if you want a play with a well defined plot, less symbolism and more action.
See it if You are a fan of Brecht or Esparza. A very complex fast paced wordgame. See it if you like wordplay and accents.
Don't see it if If you are looking for an easy to follow piece. It is all over the place.
See it if you are a fan of Bertolt Brecht or Raul Esparza and enjoy intimate theater were actors play multiple characters with minimal costume changes
Don't see it if you want a clear story that you can follow, or a performance that tries to parallel the current political environment.
See it if Generally well acted, and a surprising characterization by an offbeat star role in Raul Esparza.
Don't see it if Too often it's just a flight of words that you lose the specific knowledge of what's going on. Thematically yes, specifically, no. Pass.
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