Photo: WCSU

By: Mathew Schumer

Beginning on Oct. 16 and running through Oct. 27, Western Connecticut State University’s Department of Theatre Arts is presenting its first production of the 2019 Fall semester, Bertolt Brecht’s “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.” The performance is directed and produced by professor of acting, directing, and play production and chair of the WCSU Theatre Arts Program Pam McDaniel, and runs around two and a half hours; the cast provides more than enough entertainment, with equal parts cheap humor and thought-provoking political commentary perfect for occupying an unplanned fall evening.

Originally written by Brecht in the 1930s as a thinly veiled criticism of the ascension of the Nazi party in Germany, ‘The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui’ replaces Adolf Hitler and other prominent members of the Nazi party with overtly malicious gangster-type characters. The narrative follows the fictitious gang leader Ui and his rise to power in the cauliflower racket of 1930s Chicago. 

Depictions of violence and deception utilized by Ui and his men are frequent throughout, and while the play may be categorized as a comedy, it does progress into a decidedly dark place before ending in relatively bleak fashion. Without giving too much of the plot away, the production contains several instances of murder and the dialogue relies heavily on the use of obscenities and mature themes that are most likely unsuitable for those under the age of 18.

But this is par for the course when considering the subject matter, it should seem, as these qualities made for accurate characterizations of the crass and conniving criminals around whom the play is centered. Will Stewich, Ryan Henry, and Brandon Richardi, the actors charged with portraying Ui’s dopey cronies, each excelled at bringing emphasis to these characteristics. Mark Sumner and Kat Karl will alternate as Ui depending on the night of the production, and both bring nuanced performances to the character by proving him to be both tyrannical and tragic, often at the same time.

Photo: WCSU

Along with the terrific acting displayed by the cast, the production itself proved to be engaging in the way it openly encouraged audience participation. During one particular scene in the second act, an audience member was chosen to join the cast stage and play the part of a defendant in a trial in which they were framed for one of the dastardly deeds of Ui’s gang. During a celebratory scene later in the performance, the audience was handed party poppers to set off on-cue, sending streamers flying throughout the Visual and Performing Arts Center’s Studio Theatre.

WCSU’s production of “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” is a thoroughly entertaining show with a great deal to say, much of which is surprisingly relevant today. For those who may be interested in catching a performance, there are still several more performances at 8 p.m. from Friday, Oct. 18 through Sunday, Oct. 20  and from Friday, Oct. 25 through Sunday, Oct. 27. Additionally, there will be matinee performances at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays during the aforementioned weekends.

For more information, contact the WCSU box office at (203)837-8499, or stop by the information desks at either the Westside or Midtown Student Centers. To purchase tickets online, visit www.eventbrite.com/e/the-resistible-rise-of-arturo-ui-tickets-70816047705.