Review of Bill Sadler’s new play

Thanks to Val for this.

Rise of Arturo Ui
Oct. 22, 2002

By Frank Scheck

Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts, Pace University, New York
Through Nov. 3

In the past 11 years, Tony Randall’s National Actors Theatre has
presented 17 Broadway productions to highly mixed commercial and
critical reactions. Now, in an effort to retreat from Broadway’s
highly pressurized commercial environment, his company has moved
downtown — all the way downtown — to a handsome theater located at
Pace University. And what do you know? Its new production of Bertolt
Brecht’s savage satire of the rise of Adolf Hitler is its most
artistically accomplished yet. And with a star-studded cast headed by
Al Pacino in the title role, “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” would
be a powerhouse draw on Broadway, assuming the schedules of the busy
thespians could be worked out.

Written by Brecht when he was in exile, “Arturo Ui” is a
freewheeling, cartoonish satire closely paralleling the events and
figures relevant to Hitler’s rise to power. In the play, he is
transformed into a petty Chicago gangster who uses violence to
achieve his goal of taking over the vegetable trade. First he
disposes of the doddering Dogsborough (Charles Durning), and then
with the aid of his henchmen Giri (John Goodman), Givola (Steve
Buscemi) and Roma (Chazz Palminteri), he expands into the neighboring
town of Cicero. As you may have already guessed, the above three
characters are stand-ins for Goering, Goebbels and Ernst Rohm, with
Cicero representing Hitler’s annexation of Austria. As the play
proceeds, such episodes as the attempted assassination of Hitler and
the burning of the Reichstag are given broad depictions.

It’s a difficult and often unwieldy play, the obviousness of which is
unfortunately accentuated by director Simon McBurney’s decision to
use newsreel footage and projected titles to provide direct
comparisons for audience members not up on their Third Reich history.
But that’s the sole misstep of this imaginative and consistently
engrossing production, which is staged with an energetic fluidity and
broadness that perfectly reflects the playwright’s expansive vision.

A killer cast has been assembled, no doubt flocking to work with the
legendary leading man. Besides the aforementioned actors, who deliver
vividly entertaining turns, there also are strong performances by
Dominic Chianese (“The Sopranos”), Lothaire Bluteau, William Sadler,
Paul Giamatti and Billy Crudup, most playing multiple roles. Linda
Emond makes a strong impression as the Cicero mayor’s sexually
enticing wife, and Randall has a hilarious cameo as an aged, decrepit
actor who attempts to coach Ui in the ways of public speaking. (His
line, “If it wasn’t for the Bard, I’d be on Broadway today,” produces
titters among those in the audience aware of the NAT’s erratic
Broadway record.)

But ultimately it’s Pacino’s brilliant performance that dominates the
evening. Grotesquely made up in the first act and then bearing a
strong resemblance to Hitler in the second, he delivers a
characterization that brings to mind both his controversial Richard
III and his classic Scarface. It is a highly stylized rendition of
the alternately childlike and brutally threatening Ui that
occasionally borders on excess but is always mesmerizing. He is
equally compelling when he steps out of character at the play’s end
to deliver the playwright’s ominous epilogue warning that while “the
world stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in
heat again.” It serves as a vivid reminder that the play’s message is
now, tragically, as timely as ever.

THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI
National Actors Theatre in association with Complicite, London
Credits:
Playwright: Bertolt Brecht
Adapted by: George Tabori
Director: Simon McBurney
Scenic designer: Robert Innes Hopkins
Costume designers: Robert Innes Hopkins, Christina Cunningham
Lighting designer: Paul Anderson
Sound designer: Christopher Shutt
Projections: Ruppert Bohle
Cast:
Young Inna/Defendant Fish: Lothaire Bluteau
Goodwill: Sterling K. Brown
Giuseppe Givola: Steve Buscemi
Clark: Dominic Chianese
Flake/Defense Counsel: Billy Crudup
Old Dogsborough: Charles Durning
Betty Dullfeet: Linda Emond
Young Dogsborough/Pastor: Tom Riis Farrell
Tedd Ragg/Prosecutor: Paul Giamatti
Bodyguard: Michael Goldfinger
Emanuele Giri: John Goodman
Dockdaisy: Jacqueline McKenzie
Caruther/Greenwool: Chris McKinney
Barker, etc.: Ajay Naidu
Wounded Woman: Novella Nelson
Bodyguard: Matte Osian
Arturo Ui: Al Pacino
Ernestor Roma: Chazz Palminteri
The Actor: Tony Randall
Sheet, etc.: William Sadler
Gaffles: Robert Stanton
Crocket: John Ventimiglia
Mulberry: Jack Willis

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