Brecht’s parable of the rise of fascism gets a scarily clownish revival.
Funnily enough, the one time that director Victor Quezada-Perez inserts a direct reference to Donald Trump into this ghoulish incantation of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, the joke falls flat on its face. And the reason it does is because it’s wholly unnecessary. Bertolt Brecht’s satirical retelling of Hitler’s rise to power needs no outright tethering to the present political moment. The parallels are already frighteningly clear.
As the titular, Capone-like mobster, Antonio Brunetti practically grabs the audience by their lapels and shakes them down. He imbues Ui with a violent, yet childlike charisma—equal parts insecure bluster and psychotic rage. As Ui rises, kill by kill, from a lowly Cicero gangster to absolute ruler of the Chicago-area cauliflower trade—each scene introduced by the play’s Master of Ceremonies (David Steiger) with its direct Third Reich corollary—Brunetti begins to practically drip with menace. Actors Casey Chapman and Kevin Webb also give standout turns as two of Ui’s chief flunkies, Roma (as in Ernst Rohm) and Gobola (Joseph Goebells). Chapman’s performance finds the beating heart at the center of his character, whereas Webb unearths the oozing black pustule at the center of his.
Quezada-Perez’s area of expertise lies in European Clown technique, and sure enough this production boasts red noses, white faces, and pratfalls all around. The exaggerated comedic style pairs well with Brecht’s, let’s just say, likewise exaggerated rhetoric. It’s history that doesn’t need to be repeated to become farcical. It can be both tragedy and farce all at once. And when the play’s final line--“The bitch that bore him is once again in heat”—rings out over the darkening house, it leaves you wondering whether we can survive another clown like this again.
Trap Door Theater. By Bertolt Brecht. Directed by Victor Quezada-Perez. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 45mins; no intermission.