The UCSC Theater Arts Department: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht

Political satire and allegorical recounts of history come across as nonsense if they are unrelated to the current times. But since the topic of Hitler has been on the tips of many Americans' tongues, especially in conversations regarding the current political situation in the United States, Bertolt Brecht's satirical play The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is more than just history.

Zade Dardari and Monica Ravitch as Givola and Defense Counsel
The UCSC  Theater Arts Department's production of this "silly" masterpiece, directed by Erik Pearson, took on a modern approach to the Chicago-based gangster story, despite essentially sticking to the origin of the satire. From the very start, when the announcer - played by Alyssa Ponce - introduced the audience to all the slimy, sleazy gangsters that would be part of the play, she was wearing jeans and a t-shirt while everybody else was in 1930s dress. As she executed her monologue, I got the notion that while she was introducing us to this mob of unpleasant historical figures, she was actually from our own time. I think this costume foreshadowing worked out very well, especially when at the very end of the performance they played recordings of people expressing their negative reactions to the current POTUS. The last bit of the play took us all the way to the Women's March, and all the actors stomped off stage with posters relating to the future more than to the past.
Ryan Schwalm and Kassandra Escamilla as Arturo Ui and Betty Dulfeet

Every character in the play represents a historical figure and every scene correlates in some way or other to a historical event during the rise of Hitler before WWII. The historical background of each plot point was given in text form with a projection over the stage - as indicated in the play by Brecht - as well as video footage. "Brecht believed strongly that it was the duty of dramatists to produce work that combated oppressive political and economic conditions" (Dramaturgy Notes).

Arturo Ui, played by Ryan Schwalm, represents Hitler himself, but instead of taking over Germany, Ui takes over the cauliflower trade. Not only did Ryan Schwalm look extraordinarily sinister, his body language and vocal intonations brought to life a character everybody began hating from the very start, but still couldn't look away from. Sound familiar? He was comical, but Ryan Schwalm added little bits of disturbing facial expressions and twitches that really brought out the true fanaticism of Ui.

Roma, played by Pamela Ignacio, represents Ernst Röhm, the founder and later commander of the Nazi party's militia. Roma's devotion to Arturo Ui was clearly manifested by Pamela Ignacio's performance, which made it all the more painful to watch Givola - played by Zade Dardari and a representation of Hitler's Reich Minister of Propaganda - pitting Ui against him and then persuading Ui to get rid of Roma. The scene representing the Night of the Long Knives - during which Ernst Röhm was killed along with many other leaders of the Sturmabteilung - was difficult to watch because of how realistically the cast played out the emotions that went behind all the action. A black and white video footage of presumably Röhm's men being killed was projected above as Givola pointed the gun at the already shot once and dying Roma. A good reality check to the satire.

Kassandra Escamilla as Betty Dulfeet
A scene that really stuck out to me personally was the court trial scene, during which a presumably innocent man (historically Marinus van der Lubbe) is convicted of burning down the cauliflower warehouse (the Reichstag fire). This scene featured several characters such as Giri (Ashley Brown), Givola (Zade Dardari), the judge (Natalia Delgado), the prosecutor (Naomi Grunst), and others, and the overall effect that was created was a frantic and stressful court case where the nasty, little gangsters frame poor Fish, as if they weren't the ones who set the cauliflower warehouse on fire in order to strike terror in the cauliflower vendors. Giri, Ashley Brown, is anxious and stressed during the entire court case, and Ashley Brown's excellent portrayal of the psychotic Giri went hand-in-hand with Zade Dardari's captivating portrayal of the pernicious and relatively calm Givola. This dynamic duo of evil would suddenly break into dance in between the different witnesses' testimonies, completely breaking out of character.  They would then seamlessly return the concentration to the courtroom and find their prior seats as if they had never left them. Not only was this extremely entertaining to watch, but it also clearly showed how much of a show for the general public the entire ordeal was.

Zade Dardari and Jackie McLaughlin as Givola and Dockdaisy
Towards the end of the play, not only does the action move quickly, but the scenes and acting become more realistic and emotionally driven than before. When Arturo Ui takes total control over the vegetable trade in Chicago, he directs his attention at Cicero, a representation of Austria. Igantius Dulfeet, played by Jesus Pedroza-Moreno, represents Engelbert Dollfuß, the Chancellor of Austria at the time. After he is assassinated by Arturo Ui, his widow Betty Dulfeet, played by Kassandra Escamilla, turns against Ui in a highly charged and intriguing scene. She swears to speak of Arturo Ui's evil doings, exposing him to the world. And yet, in the very last scene of the play, she is forced to speak in Ui's favor as the vegetable vendors are held at gunpoint to "vote" for Arturo Ui. Kassandra Escamilla moved the audience with Betty's genuine desperation at her realization of how horrible Arturo Ui truly is. Ryan Schwalm countered Betty's misery with Arturo Ui's unnerving disregard. Overall, the scene was memorable.

Every single actor participating in the production created an individual character, which in turn created a very bustling and busy effect. The scenes were very much alive and breathing, and this was thanks to the extremely high level of energy exerted by the actors onstage. I look forward to the next production!

Here is the entire list of all the fabulous cast members! (as listed in program)

Ashley Brown as Giri
Rey Crodova as Clark
Isabel Cortez as Young Dogsborough
Zade Dardari as Givola
Natalia Delgado as Judge
Kassandra Escamilla as Betty Dulfeet
Maria Farrell as Mulberry
Violet Finn as Hook
Ana Foroutan as Doctor
Claire Ganem as O'Casey
Liam Goff as Caruther
Naomi Grunst as Prosecutor
Pamela Ignacio as Roma
Rovert Jeffrey as Gaffles
Ky Jones as Flake
Alexandra McDaniel as Young Inna
Jackie McLaughlin as Dockdaisy
Joseph Neves as Actor
Jesus Pedroza-Moreno as Ragg and Ignatiu Dulfeet
Alyssa Ponce as Announcer
Haowen Qu as Sheet
Monica Ravitch as Goodwill and Defence Counsel
Ryan Schwalm as Arturo Ui
Keegan Vernon-Clay as Butcher
Adrian Zamora as Dogsborough

The translation of Brecht that was performed was done by Jennifer Wise.