What theatrical methods would you employ to reveal Brecht's political purpose in a production of Ui?
“The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” written by Bertolt Brecht is a political parable set in Chicago during the Second World War - What theatrical methods would you employ to reveal Brecht's political purpose in a production of Ui? introduction. It has been described as “a blasting attack on the banal irrationality which can lead in certain circumstances to psychopathic governments”
The main regime that Brecht was commenting on was Nazi Germany so this would influence the production techniques. Brecht wanted to make his audience feel uncomfortable and the challenge facing any director is how to make the play have a political conscience.
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The play is set in Chicago for two reasons: the gangster industry was rife in the city during the war and because the setting provided “a cloak to distance German audiences from what were parables about their own society.” Brecht had been attacking the Nazis from as early as 1930 in the poem the “Song of the SA man” and “Hitler Chorales” but after the open portrayals of Hitler by Chaplin, Brecht was inspired to present the characters of him and his associates as protection-racket gangsters from the Al Capone era. This would have to be borne in mind throughout the play.
Brecht was trying to convey the point that violence and corruption will always be in society, people will see opportunity and exploit it and people must stand up to the exploitation.
” It only takes a few good men to do nothing for evil to take over.”
The director has to ensure that the characters are seen as monsters not “overgrown mobsters” who are just to be laughed at and forgotten.
In scene 3 Ui finds out that Dogsborough has elicited city funds and that the Cauliflower Trust is a sound investment so he sees an opportunity to set up his protection racket.
“Say, that’s corrupt.
By god the old man hasn’t kept his nose
This sentence is also ironic as Ui himself is totally corrupt. This relates to Hitler exploiting the depression to sell his vision of Germany and the empire. In the first scene where the good men of the Cauliflower Trust are discussing their pending financial ruin, they concede that they might need the evilness of Ui and his organization to assist them in the future
“What straits we’ll come to yet”
This also represents an important event in Nazi Germany when the respected powerful industrialists realize that they might need Hitler’s protection against the left.
Each of the main characters in the play relates to a famous person in the Nazi regime, Ui=Hitler, Dogsborough= von Hindbrurg, Roma= Ernst Roehm, etc. This could be shown to the audience in different ways. The costume that is worn by the characters could start as normal Chicago clothes but as the play progresses it changes to the clothes that would have been worn by their German counterpart. So Ui and Dogsborough would wear Green military uniform and Roma the gray/black uniform worn by the S.A. Another way the director could portray this that is more in keeping with Brecht’s views on theatre is that the characters could wear a badge with their name and their German counterpart’s name on it. In scene 15 when Ui is delivering his speech to the people of Cicero, Ui’s bodyguards can walk round handing out bands with swastikas on them.
The staging can help to portray Brecht’s political views. I would set my production in a black box studio. On the back wall I would use a cyclorama to project photographic images and film of the parallel events in Nazi Germany. For example when Fish is on trial for the fire, I would have images of the trial of the young Dutchman that was fitted up by the Nazis for arson and drugged during his trial.
As there are a lot of scenes in a variety of different places, (some of the scenes are set in the dockyard while other scenes are set in bookmakers and houses), the props that are used would have to represent different items. I would use crates, barrels and timber to represent the shipyard and then when the scene is in an indoor setting, the barrels can be turned on their sides to make benches and the crates can have clothes on to make tables. The props and clothes could have Swastikas painted on them. All the swastikas would be painted in multi-colours to show Brecht’s views of the Nazi regime. The last scene when Ui addresses the people can be made into a parody of the Nuremberg rally with the crates elevating Ui so he is on a podium.
At the end of Scene 15 there is an Epilogue that reinforces the main political points to the audience. As a director I would have all the characters on stage to freeze frame and an actor dressed in an allied World War Two uniform would march on in a military fashion and read from a scroll as if they were important orders.
“The world was almost won by an ape”
“The womb he crawled from still going strong”
Brecht is trying to warn audiences that what happened in Nazi Germany can easily happen again and his words of over fifty years ago have turned out to be very true with oppressive regimes still in operation such as Saddam Hussain in Iraq and until recently The Talaban in Afghanistan.