Macalester’s Theater and Dance Department took up the challenge of putting on The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui last weekend as its first show of the spring semester – and succeeded. The play, directed by guest artist Barbra Berlovitz (Founding Artistic Director of the Theatre de la Jeune Lune), had four shows starting Thursday, February 20th and closing on Saturday evening. Although performing an allegorical play representing Hitler and the Nazi regime told through Chicago mobsters running a cauliflower business may seem like an eccentric choice, this whimsically fast-paced show certainly kept everyone in the sold-out theater engaged.
Written by German playwright Bertolt Brecht, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui tells the story of what happens to all those involved in the cauliflower market when once overseer Dogsborough (Jon Dahl ‘14), now old and sick, gets usurped and overthrown by manipulative smooth-talker Arturo Ui, played by Alana Horton ‘14. Everything from Arturo’s satirically heavy Brooklyn accent to his constant pleas for advice from his much tougher gangster friends makes Arturo an unlikely depiction of Adolf Hitler – at first.
But once Arturo gets comfortable in a more authoritative position, his all-too-familiar jet-black toothbrush mustache begins to suit this unlikely dictator. Despite Arturo’s cohorts towering over him, Arturo has a captivating way of always seeming bigger. The play suddenly becomes much less of a satire and much more of a harsh reality when Arturo begins to use threats, force and violence to get exactly what he wants, and all those who work for him have no choice but to submit.
The 18-person cast auditioned for the play back in November, and winter vacation was cut short as those cast had to return to school for rehearsal on January 13, in order to make the early curtain date of February 20. Although on an extremely tight schedule, the cast and crew handled the burden without missing a beat – everything from the ghostly makeup to the slick, gangster attire to the dimmed, almost sleazy-looking urban lighting to the authentic mimic of the accents and mannerisms of the 1930s made the play that much more appealing.
The original play, written for an almost entirely male cast, was an interesting choice for Macalester, which as of this year has over 60 percent female students. Many of the female actors had to dress up in typical 1930s gangster dress and lower their voices — including, Horton, as she took on the role Ui and created an unexpected power dynamic. The actors handled this gender ambiguity beautifully, willing to step out of more comfortable roles and take on very different parts from what many were used to. The acting hit every range, starting out with very fast, witty dialogue and smoothly escalating to a fearful, ominous timbre. All those who had to submit to Arturo’s reign really showed how they had become trapped in his unrelenting grasp.
Although the audience was very caught up in the story of Arturo and the cauliflower market, the scene changes were handled creatively and kept the viewers tied closely to the allegory of Nazi Germany. After most scenes, two members of the cast and crew would come out with banners that read a real event that took place during the rise of Hitler – very much like a timeline. This clever way to change scenes not only reminded us of the underlying significance of the play, but also mirrored Arturo’s ascent to power. With every scene change, he would climb his way farther up the ladder, riding on carefully chosen words and his threats to all those beneath him.
The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is not the most traditional of plays, but what better school than Macalester to pull off the non-conventional? Congrats to the entire cast and crew for recreating an extremely believable depiction of the 1930s Chicago gangster scene, without failing to be humorous or musical—getting us to recognize that power can take any form, in any setting.