By Audrey Iorio, Contributor
Is it really that easy for someone so insidious to rise to power over so many, and so quickly? Playwright Bertolt Brecht’s play “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” would argue that, yes, it is. The production, which runs at Augsburg University’s Tjornhom Nelson Theater from Nov. 9–11 and 16–18 at 7:00 p.m. and Nov. 19 at 3:00 p.m., is set in 1930s Chicago, a time and place where both the Great Depression and gangster mobs were rampant.
The main gangster in this piece was none other than the titular character Arturo Ui. His goal? To control the cauliflower racket through the grocers, first in the city of Chicago, then other surrounding areas and eventually the world through ruthless and manipulative tactics. This work served as a satirical allegory of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, yet it contained another message relevant to today.
The performance really was a wonder. The costumes, hair and makeup — a precisely accurate rendering of the 1930s and the specific crowd they were portraying — were complemented by the actors who bore them, who kept stances and gestures throughout their performance that reflected the different mannerisms of that time period exactly. The actors themselves brought their roles to life believably, and even took care to perfect the accents that Chicago gangsters are known so well for.
The positions that the actors held as they performed stood out to me initially with how sharp and well-maintained they were and the striking silhouettes they created artistically. There was one specific gesture that struck me the most, and it included more of a message than an aesthetic: the Heil victory salute. The oppressed grocers were made to raise their hands to show their submissive agreement to Ui and his men, and they did so with this salute, prompting a gasp from the audience.
The success of this show did not lie solely in the actors, but they were a large contribution. The set itself offered a genuine feel of the time and place, and it was kept relatively simple with a few pieces of furniture that could be versatilely utilized against a brick and garage door-laden backdrop.
Part of the set was different from most, however: the screens. Television screens were placed to the far left and right sides of the stage with some screens present above the action. Any time an event occurred within the play that related back to something that happened within Hitler’s own rise to power, the screens would project words detailing that event as it actually occurred in Hitler’s time through newspaper headlines or general statements.
This digital incorporation to the set aided the audience in following the satirical allegory aspect and really added to the performance in that it made one realize exactly how history can repeat itself and how that may not always be obvious upfront.
This specific performance was especially unique in its final message that, while important, the satirical allegory of Hitler’s rise to power was not the only notion of power. Another level of political power, relevant to America today, was referenced as a shocking reveal at the play’s end. This final haunting sight shared the idea that it is more than possible for the corrupt to ascend to power, and this produced audible gasps from the audience; when the lights came up, those sitting around me seemed more pensive than anything.
Throughout the whole of the play, implications to the rise of Hitler were not hidden; the screens guided the audience members through the similarities between the gangster and the dictator, and the Heil victory salute was implemented in one notable, standstill moment. In other words, the message of how this play bore of how someone so nefarious could be able to rise to power so quickly. The play’s important message was executed successfully through a performance that was all-in-all fascinating and worthwhile.
This article first appeared in the Friday, November 17, 2017, Edition of The Echo.