Directed by Frédérique Michel, Bertolt Brecht’s famous “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” at City Garage Theatre in Santa Monica, California, is an allegory for today that doesn’t go unnoticed. Originally written as an extremely (and when I say extremely, I mean extremely) blatant and marked retelling of Hitler’s rise to power, “Arturo Ui” takes place in Chicago in the 1930s, written with sardonic, almost ridiculous flair (who would’ve imagined that Ui was a mobster who controlled all the vegetable businesses in the metropolitan Chicago area?). There’s really no effort to hide the true allegory of Hitler, and in the end, Ui even dons Hitler’s infamous mustache in a haunting and eerie reprisal of darker times.
However, even though it was originally written about Hitler, there’s an even more direct link to Ui and Trump, and Michel doesn’t hide that. Andrew Loviska plays Ui with such obnoxious immaturity and powerful insolence that it makes you love to hate him for the first moment he opens his mouth. The clean-cut, pristine suits that he dons and his head-held-high presence makes him the brilliantly awful protagonist (if you could call him that) that implores you to tear your hair out. The monologues at the beginning and around intermission are performed with “Nashville”-esque alarming patriotism, danced to by several actresses donning revealing “All-American” garb with a kind of forced, shaky rigor that you’d expect from somebody crumbling under the confines of capitalism and a commercially-driven society. In perfectly-rhymed sentences, the monologues are almost mind-numbingly creepy, the big-band music blasting.
“Arturo Ui” is produced by Charles A. Duncomb, who also serves as production, set and lighting designer. City Garage Theatre really doesn’t joke around with its name — the theater is literally in a garage, but Duncombe makes great use of the space. The black brick walls provide a stark backdrop for the bleak world of Ui, and the installed hanging lighting in the space immerses audience members in the story. In classical Brechtian style, the stage is also given a scrim/makeshift curtain that opens and shuts, marking the script’s perpetual self-awareness and awareness of the audience.
Brecht isn’t for everyone, but a good Brecht production will entertain, educate and even potentially freak you out a little bit. It’s difficult to make Brecht relatable and entertaining, given the often lengthy natures of his scripts. However, City Garage makes “Arturo Ui” a worthy contender for one of the best Brecht productions I’ve seen.
Contact Olivia Popp at oliviapopp ‘at’ stanford.edu.