The Resistible Rise Of Arturo Ui: A Gangster Spectacle, by Bertolt Brecht, adapted by George Tabori, music by Hans-Dieter Hosalla
I must admit to having strongly mixed feelings about this particular play. In general, I have not been impressed by the plays of Brecht; their dialogue is generally stilted, the political biases and ideological axes to grind are pretty irritating, and there is a distinct feeling that the author seems obsessed with gangsters as a way of discrediting capitalist and middle class mentalities without doing so openly. This play adds to the general lack of openness about its purpose by deliberately contrasting the gangster action of the main play with little headlines that show the slow decline of Germany into Hitler’s own gangster rule. Although the sly bits of this book that are aimed at making fun of Hitler’s Germany as it approaches World War II are the best part of the play by far, given the general lack of interest that the dialogue or the music present to the reader, this play does nothing to hinder an impression that Brecht was fundamentally a dishonest sort of playwright who sought to use spectacle as well as a consistent approach on the criminal class as a way of delegitimizing existing social and economic elites in the West, all without dealing honestly with the shortcomings of his own preferred social system.
This book is a one-act play that is divided into a lot of scenes. The scenes cover precisely the material that the title would indicate, the rise of Arturo Ui, a very stereotypical Italian gangster whose penchant for violence and his ability to navigate a post-Prohibition world where it is possible to muscle in on political chicanery allow him to first bolster a vulnerable corrupt elite who engage in some fraudulent business practices of his own and then gradually carve out a place for himself within mainstream society while simultaneously engaging in acts of violence against those who threaten his position. Ui also shows himself adept at handling public relations, making sure to show some generosity to the widow of a witness of fraud and embezzling that manages to get whacked in order to preserve Ui’s desire to ingratiate himself with elites. Meanwhile, as all of this goes on the playwright also adds little bits of drama that demonstrate the situation in Germany which appears to be more important to the author in demonstrating the resistible rise of Hitler than may be entirely safe for the playwright to let on.
The essential part of this play that deserves to be remembered is the way that the author conceives of this gangster melodrama as a resistible rise. Not only does the author believe that the rise of Hitler and Ui could have been resisted, but that it should have been, even though it wasn’t resisted forcefully until it was too late for a lot of people to suffer and die. Of course, the author’s equation of America’s city politics and European fascism is a bit too facile, and the author once again appears to be pushing a socialist agenda without being honest about what it entails. Does the author seem to think that leftists lack crony capitalism or fraud and corruption or violence directed at others, because the historical record indicates that Brecht is only dealing with half of the story, trying to paint more right-wing regimes as being evil while not addressing at all the evils of the left. And while Brecht (and anyone else) is certainly free to be biased, readers and theatergoers should be sensitive to these biases and to reject Brecht’s approach as representing anything approaching fairness and balance or historical truth, or even compelling and entertaining drama.