About The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui


"The play is not so much an attack on Hitler, but rather upon the complacency of the people who were able to resist him, but didn't."

Bertolt Brecht

The Nordhoff Theatre Arts Department’s production of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is a play that is based on the unlikely connection between Al Capone and Adolf Hitler. Formulated during the rise of Nazism in the 1930’s and created in the middle of World War II, Bertolt Brecht tapped into the American infatuation with gangster movies and made it a gangster spectacle to explain the inner workings of how Adolf Hitler rose to power. Set in Chicago in the late 1920’s, the scenes, characters, and play are a direct allusion to Hitler’s improbable rise in Germany at a similar time in history. By blending the mob and the Nazi’s together we have a unique American take on a foreign event in time.

Brecht’s belief was that it should be fast, colorful, and comic but at the same portray the uncomfortable message that behind it all Ui is a horror story and man-made tragedy. Brecht's parable relies on the legendary status of the gangsters of American cinema of the 1920s and 1930s. All of the play’s furious, mocking energy is a shout of defiance and disgust directed at one man – Adolf Hitler – and also at ordinary people and their failure to stop him.

The play is a curious pastiche of the gangster genre of the 1930’s. He based it on  Hollywood productions with the hope that when he immigrated to the United States it would be staged. Unfortunately, his work did not find traction at that time and the significance to what he had produced was only realized later during the 1960’s. Ui is also a pastiche of Shakespeare‘s Richard III, and the combining of these two elements  created a play that was a clever way of exploring the difficult themes of power and corruption. What Brecht did was create a funny, frightening, and accessible piece of theatre.

The plays explores the theme of the outsider to power and the unscrupulous steps that a desperate person might take to overcome their own perceptions of marginalized status. Ui is about Hitler the outsider, how he rose to power, and what he ]was willing to do to hold on to the evil that he created. It is about how Hitler used society and manipulated the unhappiness and despair of the people to achieve his own dark purpose.

“Ui (ooo-eee) is a parable play, written with the aim of destroying a dangerous respect commonly felt for great killers…          Brecht on The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, 1941

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