The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui
A parable play of Hitler's rise to power set in prewar Chicago. (1995 Encyclopaedia Britannica - Biography of Bertolt Brecht))
CAST / CREW (2002 production)
Robert Innes Hopkins with...
National Actors Theater.......
Tony Randall, founder and
artistic director, in
association with Complicite,
London. At the Michael
Schimmel Center for the
Arts at Pace University, 3
Spruce Street, between
Park Row and Gold Street,
Giuseppe "the Florist" Givola
Flake and the Defense Counsel
Ted Ragg and Prosecutor
production stage manager
You are Visitor No:
New York Daily News - "Speaking of Show-Stoppers"
Thanks Lisa Wollney for this info.
A smoking bag of microwave popcorn -- not Al Pacino's acting -- was to blame for emptying Pace University Theater in New York recently.
About 700 audience members, as well as Pacino's co-stars John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Billy Crudup and Dominic Chianese, were forced to flee the theater when a fire alarm sounded in the middle of a performance of Bertolt Brecht's avant-garde play, "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui," the New York Daily News reports.
The cast mingled with audience members outside while firefighters investigated the cause of the alarm. Once they determined it was just an college student with the munchies, everyone was allowed back into the theater.
Variety Article (click here to see it)
Thanks Joan Butryn for this info.
Pacino 'Arturo Ui' Announces Second Extension, Tue Oct 29, 3:47 PM ET, Andrew Gans, Playbill On-Line
The National Actors Theatre's production of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui has announced a second extension. The play, which casts Academy Award winner Al Pacino in the title role, opened Oct. 3. Originally scheduled to run through Oct. 26, the play was first extended to Nov. 3. The Bertolt Brecht play will now close following the Nov. 10 performance.
The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui plays Pace University's Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts, which is located on Spruce Street between Park Row and Gold Street. All tickets and memberships for the National Actors Theatre are available through Telecharge by calling (212) 239 6280.
Scent of a gangster, Al Pacino leads a star-filled cast in 'The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui', by Ward Morehouse III, Special to The Christian Science Monitor
(thanks Lisa Wollney for this info)
NEW YORK " The National Actors Theater revival of Bertolt Brecht's 1941 kaleidoscopic allegorical drama, "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui," is a triumph of inspired stagecraft and acting.
Starring Al Pacino, "Arturo Ui" is the thinly veiled story of the irresistible rise of 1930s Nazism in Germany as seen through 1920s gangsterism in Chicago. Under Simon McBurney's direction, Mr. Brecht's haunting and sometimes sardonic lines, as interpreted by a star-studded cast of 32 actors playing more than 50 roles, reinforce one another in a kind of theatrical symphony rarely seen on the New York stage these days.
The opening scene " introducing a motley group of gangsters" sets the pattern for the ensemble's acting, and the virtually seamless scene changes as Arturo Ui and his cohorts become increasingly menacing and powerful. Their unfolding grip on Chicago crime is set against black-and-white film projections of events in Nazi Germany, adding immeasurably to the play's poignance and pathos.
Ruppert Bohle's projections of old film clips, Paul Anderson's dramatic lighting, and Christopher Shutt's sound effects all help to take the audience on a roller-coaster ride of suspense and emotion.
A scene reconstructing the St. Valentine's Day massacre, for example, with its explosion of machine gunfire, is presented against the backdrop of Hitler consolidating his power. The Chicago-Berlin parallel, which could have become strained, is interwoven beautifully.
Of course, playwright Brecht, who wrote "The Threepenny Opera" and "Mother Courage," often seasons the darkest of his plays with humor, and "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui" is no exception.
When Pacino, as the youthful Ui, woos local merchants to his lair with the words, "Something's rotten in the state of Illinois," a variation of a famous line from Shakespeare's "Hamlet," he gets a lot of laughs. But when he becomes the absolute ruler of the Chicago mob, the once awkward and even clownish Ui assumes such a fiendish "Richard III" evil majesty that you could hear a proverbial pin drop.
The National Actors Theater, which was founded by actor Tony Randall, has had a checkered production past, with some complaints that Randall tended to showcase himself prominently in some of the nonprofit theater's shows. But like almost everyone else in "Arturo Ui," Randall is perfectly cast as an old Shakespearean ham actor who teaches Arturo Ui elocution. The entire cast, including John Goodman, Chazz Palminteri, and Charles Durning is excellent.
Despite the fact that everyone, including Pacino, is working for what is called "scale, or the minimum pay required by the Actors Equity union, ticket prices for the show are $100, the highest price in off-Broadway history. But there were few complaints about the price of the seats at the preview performance this reviewer attended.
'The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui' is being presented at the 750-seat Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University through Nov. 3.
Al has a night of Standing O's, Mon Oct 7, by Richard Johnson
(thanks Lisa Wollney for this info)
THE audience loved Al Pacino at Thursday night's preview of "The Incredible Rise of Arturo Ui" at an auditorium in Pace College near City Hall. "He got a five-minute standing ovation at the end," said one audience member. Tickets for the four-week run will be scarcer than hen's teeth. "It was breath-taking," said our source. When they finished clapping, some of Al's friends - Shirley MacLaine, Andrew Stein, Peggy Lipton, Jon Bon Jovi and Paul and Linda (sic) McCartney - went backstage to congratulate the durable and versatile star.
Arturo Ui Tickets for Sale
(thanks Suzanne B. for this info)
To get tickets, you can call Telecharge at (212) 239-6280. You will need to purchase a National Actors Theater membership first ($50 per person). The tickets to show are around $65 - $70 or so. The show is running from October 3rd through 26th I believe.
Al Pacino to Star in Arturo Ui for National Actors Theatre, 14-AUG-2002 http://www.playbill.com/cgi-bin/plb/news?cmd=show&code=112023
(thanks Anne for this info)
Al Pacino is returning to the stage. Pacino will star in a limited run of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for the National Actors Theater this fall. The New York Post reports that the production will be staged at Pace University.
The stellar company will also include Billy Crudup, a Tony nominee this past season for his work in the title role of The Elephant Man; Chazz Palminteri, Steve Buscemi and veteran actor Charles Durning. Simon McBurney will direct.
Written while in exile in 1941, Brecht's Arturo Ui recasts Hitler's rise as a Chicago gangster's takeover of the Windy City's green-grocery trade. The play bowed on Broadway in Nov. 1963. The George Abbott-directed production featured incidental music by Jule Styne and a cast that included Sandy Baron, Leonardo Cimino, James Coco, Michael Constantine, Elisha Cook, Roger De Koven, James Frawley, John Karlen, Henry Lascoe, Christopher Plummer, Madeleine Sherwood, William Shust, Lionel Stander, Glenn Stensel, Murvyn Vye and Robert Weil. It ran for just five previews and eight performances. A 1968 revival at the Billy Rose Theatre ran ten performances.
(thanks Tito for this info)
The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui Al Pacino is in the title role of Brecht's satire about the apathetic response to Hitler's rise to power. Directed by Simon McBurney. With Billy Crudup, Charles Durning, John Goodman, Linda Emond, Tony Randall, Chazz Palminteri and others. (Not reviewed at press time.) National Actors Theater, at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University, Spruce St., between Park Row and Gold St. (212-239-6200) (2:30) Closes Nov. 3. A few days ago, also, the NYT published an article about the price of the tickets: $115, a record for an Off Broadway production. You have a whole month to go to New York.
PHOTOSAll photos are courtesy of Joan Eugene Butryn, Copyright JEB Productions,
(he co-starred in Sea of Love)
Variety Review (click here to see it)
Thanks Joan Butryn for this info.
Pacino Mesmerizing in `Arturo Ui', Wed Oct 23, 7:36 AM ET, By MICHAEL KUCHWARA, AP Drama Critic
(thanks Andy for this info)
NEW YORK (AP) - Epic theater demands an epic production, and the National Actors Theatre delivers with a smashing revival of "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui," Bertolt Brecht's massive agitprop masterpiece.
Interest has been high in the show which has a top ticket price of $100 primarily because of its star, Al Pacino (news), and he's mesmerizing in the title role. But the real headliner is director Simon McBurney who has marshaled a large cast with the precision of a military commander launching an all-out attack.
McBurney's ferocious vision fills the wide, auditoriumlike stage of Pace University's Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts. And he is unafraid to think big and bountiful. The director uses film clips, still photographs, an eclectic soundtrack that ranges from piercing whistles to Tom Waits (news) to vintage popular standards to Dmitri Shostakovich, and spooky, B-movie lighting to get the unnerving effects he wants on stage.
What is more important, McBurney keeps his actors on the move. There's not much slack time in this fluid, three-hour production with actors charging relentlessly from scene to scene. There's an almost Shakespearean quality to its scope, as the play, in a muscular adaptation by George Tabori, swirls toward its ominous conclusion.
Brecht's parable of a small-time Chicago mobster's rise to power, written in 1941, is a thinly veiled parody of Hitler's coup in Germany in the early 1930s. If there is any doubt about the connection, McBurney uses vintage newsreels of Hitler's takeover in Berlin to underline the link.
It's fascinating to watch Pacino's transformation from a simianlike thug, clownishly dressed in a long brown leather coat (with a fur collar), plaid pants and a white undershirt. He's a bad little-man, who crudely insinuates his way into the all-powerful vegetable cartel by first co-opting grocers, by announcing he will protect them "from force and violence with force and violence."
By the time Ui's power grab is complete, he has been turned into a polished, pinstriped executive, who would fit right in with today's corporate bigwigs under indictment or investigation. McBurney makes that point in an unsubtle way but it's effective.
Pacino is the biggest name in the large cast, but there are several other prominent actors who contribute mightily to the effectiveness of the production. Chief among them are Charles Durning as an aging politician (read Hindenburg) whom Ui manipulates and then humiliates; John Goodman (news) as a buffoonish but deadly hit man; Chazz Palminteri (news) as a loyal friend who meets an untimely end; and Steve Buscemi (news) as the creepiest of confidantes.
Even the lesser roles are filled with sterling performers, who often do double or triple duty. These workhorses include Billy Crudup (news), Paul Giamatti (news) and William Sadler (news).
And Tony Randall, founder and artistic director of the National Actors Theatre, has a choice bit as a drunken actor hired to teach the uncouth Ui how to talk and walk. It's very funny one of the play's most inspired moments, one that never fails to produce laughs. Still, Randall, done up in a scraggily white wig and pasty makeup, gets even more with his hammy, hilarious turn.
The scene also reveals the complexity of the play. As the old man's lessons sink in, Ui's new footwork turns into a goose step and his sudden, confident use of his arms, transforms into a Nazi salute. Comic and chilling at the same time.
"The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui," which closes Nov. 3, is a difficult play to pull off. Done badly, it's annoyingly didactic, a harangue that never seems to end. McBurney, Pacino and company have managed to make it come alive. The National Actors Theatre has had a fitful decade since its founding by Randall in 1991. With "Arturo Ui" and its new home downtown near City Hall, the theater's second decade has gotten off to a more than promising start.
New York Times Review: Scarface? The Godfather? Nope, It's a Hitlerian Thug, By Ben Brantley
(thanks Tito for this info) (you have to register but it is quick and free) There is a very good picture too. Here is an excerpt about Al:
To say that Al Pacino is giving the performance of his career at the moment is not to say that he is giving his best performance ever. What is true is that in the splashy, star-packed new revival of Bertolt Brecht's "Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui," Mr. Pacino sometimes seems to be channeling most of his more celebrated roles. It's as if his entire professional life were passing before your eyes in a series of juicy, iconographic acting bites.
Remember Mr. Pacino's wasted, wacked-out drug lord in "Scarface"? His increasingly Marlo Brando-ized mafia capo in the "Godfather" films? His satanic attorney in "The Devil's Advocate"? And, above all, his personal take on Shakespeare's crookback king in the documentary film "Searching for Richard"?
Flashes of these portraits in celluloid illuminate the National Actors Theater's production of Brecht's long-winded fable about fascist tyranny in vicious old Chicago, staged by the British director Simon McBurney at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University.
Be grateful that Mr. Pacino, in the title role of a Hitlerian thug who conquers the cauliflower business, arrives equipped with this built-in animated scrapbook. And that he can translate its elements into such viscerally theatrical terms.
For the truth is that "Arturo Ui," which was written in the early 1940's during Brecht's European exile from Nazi Germany, has never been an exciting play. Yes, it features dazzlingly sordid, throat-slitting goons like those of "The Threepenny Opera" and some witty bits of music-hall-style violence. But it is also a numbingly detailed and literal-minded allegory, cluttered with descriptions of business transactions that parallel events in Hitler's road to power.
First staged in 1958, it's a work that brings out the more patience-taxing aspects suggested by the term epic theater, even with high-voltage actors like Christopher Plummer (1963) and John Turturro (1991) as the charismatically loutish Ui.
This latest version unfolds as a neck-and-neck race between the tedium of the material and the entertaining chutzpah of its presentation.
By the end, tedium has won by a nose, but it's not for want of plenty of bright and brazen showmanship along the way.
"Arturo Ui," which runs through Nov. 3, generated plenty of publicity before it opened. The cast promised to be an acting connoisseur's delight of idiosyncratic manhood, with, for starters, Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, Chazz Palminteri, Billy Crudup and Charles Durning supporting Mr. Pacino. Experimental theater fans were salivating over the participation of Mr. McBurney, the artistic director of the wondrous Complicite company of London ("Street of Crocodiles," "Mnemonic").
Then there was the little matter of price: $115 (which includes a mandatory $50 membership fee for the National Actors Theater), $15 more than the highest regular ticket price on Broadway. What's more, the producers originally planned not to invite critics, saying the show was still a work in progress.
In fact, there remains a work-in-progress roughness about this "Arturo Ui." Mr. McBurney's disciplined, formal style, which asks performers to step in and out of their human identities, is eminently suited to that famous Brechtian alienation effect.
But it poses demands that American actors known for their freewheeling spontaneity can't always meet. Aside from Mr. Pacino, only Mr. Buscemi, a veteran of the avant-garde rigors of the Wooster Group, and a hilariously angular Linda Emond, of "Homebody/Kabul," are entirely successful in sustaining the electrified artificiality that's required.
Similarly, wit and virtuosity, which appropriately mix sinister shadows and clinical clarity, are often evident in the work of the exceptionally gifted technical team which includes Robert Innes Hopkins (set and costumes) and Ruppert Bohle (projections), as well as the Complicite veterans Paul Anderson (lighting), Christopher Shutt (sound) and Christina Cunningham (costumes).
Yet because "Arturo Ui" works with such a crowded canvas, too much fancy stagecraft can make it hard to understand. It's a can't-win situation, since the play becomes either hard to follow (with diversionary visuals) or hard to swallow (with a straightforward presentation of a medicinal lecture). The projection here of supertitles to annotate what's happening onstage with descriptions of what was happening in Nazi Germany (the Reichstag fire, the invasion of Poland) inevitably smacks of the lecture hall.
Brecht had specific instructions for staging "Ui." The show's pace, he advised, must be "at top speed." And it should have "obvious hark-backs to the Elizabethan Theater."
If Mr. McBurney's "Ui" still drags quite a bit more than a speeding bullet, the production consistently brings out the play's Elizabethan aspects. George Tabori's bold adaptation of the original text explicitly evokes Shakespearean verse, blank and rhymed, and neatly sets off the work's many references to tragedies from "Hamlet" to "Julius Caesar."
So does Mr. McBurney's staging, with its exaggerated physical renderings of the swift shifting of alliances and its pointed use of a large leather chair as a throne fit for a Mafia-style king. More than any Shakespearean monarch, of course, it is Richard III who comes to mind, and there is a scene (deliciously executed by Mr. Pacino and Ms. Emond) that exactly summons Richard's wooing of Lady Anne over her husband's corpse.
Mr. Pacino has long been fascinated by Shakespeare's nastiest tyrant, an obsession he vividly examined in the movie "Searching for Richard" and puts to fascinating use here. When you meet his Ui, he walks hunchback-style, with a simian slump. But if Mr. Pacino is doing Ui as Richard, it is the inner pathological Richard, with no courtly camouflage.
Here is a purely animal presence, a brute whose hands hang at his sides like deadweights and whose eye sockets register as hungry black holes. This man is all id, and Mr. Pacino's enjoyably audacious performance is about an id in search of an ego.
The production's highpoint, by the way, comes not with Ui's completed metamorphosis into a Hitler facsimile but much earlier, when Ui enlists a derelict actor to teach him how "guys walk around in the theater or the opera."
The alcoholic thespian is played by Tony Randall, the founder of the National Actors Theater, who is in splendid self-satirizing form here. To watch the older man instruct the younger on Shakespearean style becomes a blissful multilevel parody of both political performance and two distinct approaches to acting.
Even Mr. Pacino can't do a whole lot with the admonitory effigy that Ui subsquently becomes. At a moment in history when the name of Hitler is being evoked for name-calling by politicians of all stripes, any fresh insights on the man and his frightening seductiveness are welcome. Unfortunately, "Arturo Ui" doesn't provide them; it never has. It is less a sophisticated analysis than a crude political cartoon.
What this production offers as compensation is a lively deconstruction of the Pacino persona. You start to think about how Richard III really is a template for so many of the characters Mr. Pacino has played, of how he has specialized in incarnating either Faust or Mephistopholes and sometimes both at the same time.
To see this embodied with such scary energy and focus on a stage goes a long way in offsetting the evening's ennui. Hard-core Pacino fans might even consider $115 a bargain.
NY Post, Pacino Takes on Hitler,By Donald Lyons, October 21, 2002
BERTOLT Brecht was basically a cartoonist. He told known stories in disorienting, politicized ways - as in his 1928 hit "The Threepenny Opera," which took a 19th-century satire and gave it an explicitly anticapitalist twist.
In 1939, in exile in Scandinavia, Brecht wrote "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui," which recounts the rise of Hitler as if he were a Chicago gangster. Brecht had seen a few gangster movies on a visit to New York in the mid-1930s, and thought their power usable for his purposes.
Now in-your-face director Simon McBurney brings us a hip version of "Arturo Ui," starring Al Pacino as the Illinois gangster who keeps saying "I am a simple son of the Bronx" (America was all the same to Brecht).
The ironies are many and blinding. Pacino has painted a magnificent picture of the gangster as shrewd, cold, killing businessman in the "Godfather" saga, and a lewd, lurid portrait of the gangster as street shrewdie in the remake of "Scarface" - both of them, by the way, more clever and ominous than this "Arturo Ui."
Here, both Pacino and McBurney seek to inject a sizable dollop of Quentin Tarantino-style sassy nihilism.
At first, Ui is a crude, unintelligible, street hood surrounded by characters who are caricatures of Hitler's Goebbels (a grotesque Steve Buscemi), Goering (a kill-happy John Goodman) and Ernst Rohm (a thuggish, gay Chazz Palminteri), trailed by a half-naked junkie (Lothaire Bluteau).
Pacino's Ui is a junkie himself; he slumps in chairs, has wacky hair and issues odd orders.
But he and his crew come to dominate the crooked old mayor (Charles Durning), who is supposed to be President Hindenburg of Germany. Later, Ui expands and rubs out the mayor of neighboring Cicero - read Austria - and seduces the mayor's wife (a superbly bimboesque Linda Emond).
This last has no basis in fact, but constitutes a reminiscence of "Richard III," which is not particularly relevant or amusing.
Indeed, scattered thoughout there are pointless references to Shakespeare ("Is this a Luger that I see before me?" "Friends, countrymen, Americans").
The funniest scene in the play (though one without echoes either in German or Hollywood history) has Tony Randall as an alcoholic actor cynically and mechanically schooling Pacino in upright walking and comprehensible speaking.
This "Arturo Ui" has spurts of energy and impudence - but only spurts. The actual plot (Hindenburg, the Reichstag fire trial) is tedious, and we are not surprised when Pacino, in full Hitler drag, is hoisted aloft in a crane and orates, recalling Ian McKellen at the end of "Richard III."
In a word, this whole thing is "Richard III" as imagined by a Tarantino fan. Presumably, it's also a warning against Saddam Hussein.
USA Today, Do not resist 'Rise of Arturo Ui', By Elysa Gardner
NEW YORK Unlike Mack the Knife, the title character in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is not the kind of stylish thug-hero who inspires popular songs. Ui isn't as spiffy a dresser as his fellow Brechtian protagonist, for one thing, and his charms don't drive women to fits of catty and self-destructive behavior.
As embodied by Al Pacino in the National Actors Theatre's captivating new production of Arturo Ui, the guy is, to put it bluntly, a loser. That's only appropriate, because Bertolt Brecht based the role on one of the most famous losers in history, a failed artist named Adolf Hitler.
Written by Brecht when Hitler's reign of terror was in full throttle, Arturo Ui asks how a paranoid megalomaniac with few obvious personal or professional skills could hijack an entire country and eventually threaten world domination. It's a question that remains as relevant and vexing today as it was 60 years ago, as this star-studded revival, which will run through Nov. 3 at Pace University's Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts, makes painfully clear.
Working with George Tabori's stringent English adaptation of Brecht's text, director Simon McBurney has sculpted a production that is at once briskly contemporary and faithful to its author's dramatic vision. The darkly comic saga of how Ui and his motley gang rise to power in 1930s Chicago is played out in the stark but purposefully stylish tradition of epic theater, so that words and actions jolt rather than seduce. Music buzzes under dialogue or conspires with Christopher Shutt's jarring sound design. A large screen over the stage flashes eerie black-and-white film clips, some documenting the parallel horrors that marked Hitler's ascent.
Most of the show's sensory assaults, however, are executed live and in the flesh. Pacino's Ui is as hilarious as he is horrific, a self-professed humble son of the Bronx with lousy posture and a persecution complex. It's a subtle performance at first, but it rises to a level of piercing intensity. Pacino expertly captures his character's understated cunning and relays his unlikely transformation into a mesmerizing demagogue with chilling authenticity.
Ui's cohorts are portrayed with a similar mix of shrewdness and raw vitality. Steve Buscemi and John Goodman are deftly creepy as a mincing florist based on Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, and a buffoonish brute intended to evoke another prominent Nazi bully, Hermann Wilhelm Goering.
Chazz Palminteri is drolly affecting as a character modeled after Hitler supporter-turned-rival Ernst Roehm, and Charles Durning adds gentle pathos as a respected businessman who is compromised when Chicago's greengrocer trade is usurped by corrupt suits who help enable Ui much as the Prussian nobility compromised President von Hindenburg and enabled Hitler.
Billy Crudup plays a less morally conflicted cauliflower magnate with breathless panache, and NAT artistic director Tony Randall has an amusing moment as a booze-addled old thespian who teaches Ui the manipulative power of grandiose speech and imagery. Linda Emond also is wryly winning as the first lady of Cicero, a Chicago suburb, representing Austria, that Ui intends to annex.
Luckily, you need not be a World War II junkie to appreciate Arturo Ui's enduring resonance.
As a sleazy barker observes in the play's prologue, "Great murderers ... still do command from us too much respect" even the less fashionable ones.
New York Daily News, Meaty Performances, But Jokes Wear Thin
Al Pacino has a thing about thugs.
Apart from the gangsters he has portrayed in the movies, much of his stage work in recent years has been devoted to playing tyrants - Shakespeare's Richard III, about whom he made an excellent film, Oscar Wilde's Herod in "Salome," and now Bertolt Brecht's version of Hitler as a Chicago gangster in "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui."
Brecht's play makes an analogy between Hitler's ascent to power and annexation of Austria with Ui's rise to the head of a Chicago cauliflower cartel and his gang's takeover of neighboring Cicero.
The play is a savage cartoon, with deliberate parodies of Shakespeare (either scenes like the one in which Richard III woos a woman whose husband he has just killed, or famous lines, as in "Is this a Luger that I see before me?").
But truth to tell, the play's sardonic humor is wearyingly facile.
At the end Ui, removes his mustache and exhorts the audience to "act instead of talking" when confronted with tyrants, as Brecht himself did, I guess, by fleeing Germany in 1933, ultimately taking refuge in Amerika, where he wrote "Galileo," about a man who betrays his principles to save his skin.
I first saw "Ui" in East Berlin in 1965. My German was minimal. What most fascinated me was the eerie mood of the audience after a little more than 20 years. For that audience, the play was in no way academic.
More time has elapsed between that evening and now, and whatever parallels we may see with current events, "Ui" seems an exercise in theatricality - which is the way Simon McBurney, a master of theatrical effects, has directed it.
In the first act, he has Ui's cohorts rip down the curtains at the side of the stage as Ui makes the space his own. At the end, Ui addresses the audience with his image, Citizen Kane-like, on a giant screen behind him. McBurney also uses music effectively.
Pacino's Ui starts as a sniveling weakling, curled into himself like a tightly coiled bud that will blossom into some ghastly weed. His voice has a rasping quality, as if his nasal passages coated every utterance with noxious vapors.
By Act Two, however, the neuroses that made him furtive and repellent seem mesmerizing, virtually the source of Ui's power. The line between private confusion and public mastery is chillingly thin.
He is surrounded by superb actors. Tony Randall, whose National Actors Theater produced this limited run, has a wonderful stint as a drunken Shakespearean actor who teaches Ui how to speak.
Billy Crudup has an intense scene as a lawyer. Chazz Palminteri has great strength as a swaggering thug. Linda Emond treads a tricky path between satire and pathos as the widow Ui courts. As a victim, Novella Nelson has dignity.
If the production has a weakness, it is that it almost always plays at top volume and energy. Evil can be more disquieting when it is quiet.
This audience, of course, has not really come to study the sources of evil. They've each paid $100 to see high-powered stars. The constant sense of clamor assures them they've gotten their money's worth.
Washington Post, 'Arturo Ui': Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here By Peter Marks, Washington Post Staff Writer, Tuesday, October 22, 2002; Page C01
NEW YORK -- So many things go right in the smashing new staging of Bertolt Brecht's "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui" that you can't help but wonder: How did all the top-gun actors enlisted for this off-Broadway spectacle manage to whip themselves into such a taut, disciplined force for theatrical good?
Often, classic plays with powerhouse casts -- and this one certainly qualifies, showcasing the abilities of, among others, Al Pacino, Steve Buscemi, Chazz Palminteri, John Goodman, Billy Crudup, Paul Giamatti and Charles Durning -- sink fast, like yachts overpacked with luxury cargo. It's no small task, integrating the outsize talents of performers frequently asked to carry a project on their own.
Yet British director Simon McBurney, his bravura physical style exhilaratingly on display in this brutal and blunt Fascist allegory set in the Chicago underworld, gets his sprawling cast to set aside ego and harmoniously serve up Brecht's brazenly cautionary tale.
The pleasures begin with Pacino's wily, deliciously florid performance in the title role, a portrayal that should reignite speculation about his future ambition in the theater. He has proven himself a magnetic stage performer in the past -- most recently in a 1996 revival of Eugene O'Neill's two-character play, "Hughey" -- but his hunched cockroach of an Arturo Ui is a cut above, an achievement on a par with the great English actors of our time, such as Michael Gambon and Ian McKellen, who tackle this kind of acting challenge with the regularity of permanent residents. With his star power and technical gifts, Pacino proves here that he could very well join their ranks, be the charismatic linchpin, perhaps, to the formation of a national theater company, of the sort that this country so scandalously lacks.
Forgive, for a minute, "Arturo Ui's" limitations. Jaded audiences inured to political commercials may find the German playwright's hand here a mite heavy: A 1930s Chicago gangster takes control of the city's groceries by a mix of violence and oily stealth, intimidating the merchants, hypnotizing the broke and broken masses, and oh yes, even learning to thrust his arm in a hearty "Heil!" We know where this is going, don't we? On the remote chance that the parallels to Nazi Germany are not abundantly apparent, the mob boss trims his mustache to the dimensions of a checkerboard square and delivers fiery oratory. Meanwhile, images of a certain real-life Führer are flashed on a mural-sized screen behind him.
Time has devalued the play's currency. Brecht wrote it in 1941 shortly after fleeing the Nazis. While an epilogue added later continues to echo across the century -- "Although the world stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again" -- "Arturo Ui" doesn't have the poetic authority of works like "The Good Woman of Szechuan" and "The Caucasian Chalk Circle," with less ripped-from-the-headlines sensibilities. "Arturo Ui" is more in the vein of Clifford Odets's "Waiting for Lefty," the Depression-era rallying cry for the labor movement.
Still, McBurney, on loan here to Tony Randall's beloved if struggling National Actors Theatre, brings to Brecht his gift for creating stimulating visual language, a sophisticated brand of imagemaking for which his London company, Theatre de la Complicite, has gained wide renown. A retractable platform and corrugated back wall are the basic and effective buildings blocks of Ui's benighted universe. The defeated feel of Chicago in the 1930s is reinforced by the grainy black-and-white movie footage splashed like a kinetic backdrop across the wall. Settings are suggested by a few carefully chosen props, and in particular one plush leather chair that comes to symbolize the allure of absolute power; Pacino buries his nose in the leather as if it emitted pheromones.
What a treat it must have been for a foreign director, populating an epic drama about American thugs with so many actors who know the terrain. "Arturo Ui" not only employs a master of the genre like Pacino -- who has played so many mob types, from Michael Corleone to Scarface, that he's a veritable one-man crime syndicate -- but also such other veterans of the trade as Palminteri, playing Arturo's right-hand man, Ernesto Roma, and Buscemi, giving a scorching account of a reptilian henchman with a clubfoot and a devotion only to himself.
And what would any mob saga today be without a Soprano? The production actually offers two regulars from the HBO series. Dominic Chianese, forever Uncle Junior to his fans, and John Ventimiglia, the high-strung proprietor of Vesuvio's, the Mafia hangout, both fare well in featured roles (and neither plays a made man).
McBurney stages Arturo's ruthless ascent with a loving nod to American gangster films; a massacre like the famous one on Valentine's Day is stunningly realized, with the silhouettes of the dying mobsters frozen on the wall. An array of actors create finely etched characters in a Dickensian gallery. Giamatti's craven newsman, Durning's panic-driven pillar of the community and Linda Emond's fiercely pragmatic industrialist's wife all provide concise insights into the world of supplication that thrives in the shadow of tyranny.
Better still is Randall himself, in a cameo that one can sense he was positively itching to take on. It's the play's funniest scene, one in which Arturo, grasping the importance of creating a public persona, seeks out an old actor to give him pointers on posture and locution. White wisps of hair draping his face like cobwebs, Randall wanly raises an arm to steer the shuffling, mumbling mob boss in the right direction.
"Walk! Walk!" Randall bellows. "Toes touch the ground first," he adds, as Pacino takes his first baby goose steps.
The scene works wonderfully. Up to then, we've only seen Arturo as animated sewage, a greasy, buck-toothed savage. Affecting a high-pitched whine, Pacino's Arturo can hardly articulate: "Dogsborough" comes out of his mouth, for instance, as "Dogbo."
Pacino's metamorphosis into a leader of chilling determination is gloriously foul. He's both power addict and dyed-in-the-wool coward, drawn to the violence of the subterranean world and terrified at the sight of a gun. It's the kind of double-barreled performance one rarely gets to see onstage from an actor of Pacino's stature.
For its follow-up, we only keep our fingers crossed.
The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, by Bertolt Brecht. Adapted by George Tabori. Sets, Robert Innes Hopkins; lighting, Paul Anderson; costumes, Hopkins and Christina Cunningham. With Lothaire Bluteau, Sterling K. Brown, Ajay Naidu and Novella Nelson. Approximately three hours. Through Nov. 3 at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University in Manhattan. Call 212-239-6280.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
Intelligent artificiality THEATRE NEW YORK: Financial Times; London (UK); Oct 25, 2002; Lemon, Brendan; (there is a picture at the original article)
(Thanks Vlakor for this info)
If any American actor inspires obsession, not for his looks but for his overall presence, it is Al Pacino. While his iconic screen star cohorts, from Beatty and Hoffman to De Niro and Nicholson, abandoned the stage long ago, Pacino keeps returning to it, giving his many committed fans a fix and injecting bizarre yet mesmerising life into classics like Salome and Richard III and curios like Chinese Coffee.
His latest odd outing is the title role in Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, which inhabits the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at Pace University. The nearly three-hour evening was that rare event in which a punishingly didactic text - about the Hitler-like rise of a thug who takes over Chicago's cauliflower business - seemed almost beside the point.
Simon McBurney's celebrity-stocked, multi-media production, with designs by Robert Innes Hopkins, diverts us with newsreel footage, giant screen projection, and snatches of Shostakovich, but cannot relieve the tedium of the drama or disguise the un-Brechtian acting of some of the supporting cast.
First mounted in 1958, though written during the early years of the second world war, Arturo Ui provides a short course in Brecht: sparkling, gangster-like figures virtually out of The Threepenny Opera consort with moral-enforcing speakers of works like The Caucasian Chalk Circle. The actors must pivot between authentic and assumed identities, a hallmark of the alienation effect familiar to every student who's perused an introduction to Galileo or The Good Person of Szechuan.
Just as Arturo Ui furnishes a short course in the playwright, so does this staging provide a kind of Portable Pacino. In his performance there's the sleazy volatility of Scarface, the ruthlessness of Michael Corleone, the obligatory references to the crookback king of Searching for Richard; nearly everything, that is, except the "Hoo-ah" of Scent of a Woman.
What makes Pacino so different on stage than on screen, though, is his eerie affectation. For example, his Herod in Salome spoke in a voice so bizarrely high-pitched you thought the actor had inhaled helium. Here, he and his mostly male cast declaim at top volume rather than at warp speed, the Arturo Ui instruction prized by Brecht. While the artificiality is fascinating and even amusing, it can also be wearing. By the time Arturo plops down in a throne-like leather chair, for which both Mafia-capo and Shakespearean king associations are bountiful, you may feel as knackered as the star.
When the supporting actors are on their game, however, the effect can be thrilling. Tony Randall, the founder of the National Actors Theater, which has produced the evening, contributes a sly moment as a soused actor who instructs Arturo on Shakespearean style: there are more layers here than in Manhattan bedrock.
Other highlights: Steve Buscemi offering his signature brand of off-beat creepiness as Givola, a goon with a clubbed foot and a weird way of walking; Charles Durning bumbling about as the mayor, Dogsborough, an analogue to Germany's President Hindenburg; Linda Emond, capitulating as the mayor's wife to Ui's advances; and Paul Giamatti stealing a scene as a dwarf called Dullfeet.
Neither the marvellous actorly bits nor the theatrical effects capped by Pacino in Hitler costume being hoisted aloft, a`la Ian McKellen in Richard III quite compensate for the plodding plot, which centres around Hindenburg and the Reichstag fire trial. But the chance to watch Pacino and gang at fever pitch justifies the cost of a regular ticket: $115.
While waiting for director William Friedkin to set up the next shot [during filming "Cruising"], he tries to relax by reading aloud all the parts from Bertolt Brechts "The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui" to his hair stylist , secretary and make-up man. (Playboy interview 1979)
It was written in the early 1940's during Brecht's European exile from Nazi Germany. New York Times Review: Scarface? The Godfather? Nope, It's a Hitlerian Thug, By Ben Brantley
It was first staged in 1958 New York Times Review: Scarface? The Godfather? Nope, It's a Hitlerian Thug, By Ben Brantley
Brecht had specific instructions for staging "Ui." The show's pace, he advised, must be "at top speed." And it should have "obvious hark-backs to the Elizabethan Theater." New York Times Review: Scarface? The Godfather? Nope, It's a Hitlerian Thug, By Ben Brantley