Saturday, July 16, 2005

This production of THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF ARTURO UI was done in the classic American stage craft without paying any heed to Brecht's notes ...

on alienating the audience... But what can I say, Al Pacino! I hope they don't mind that I "borrowed" the poster and a review from their wonderful site Thanks Al! I will try to stay true to your amazing stage craft! I hope my readers get a deeper sense of the importance of Brecht's play with Michael Kuchwara's criticism. Al, your picture evokes a gentle, naive tyrrant which should go over well with my planned production. I just hope I can find an actor as natural as yourself on stage.

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.
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