H-T Feature: Student director brings Hitler allegory to life

Photo by Alex McIntyre | Herald Times Director Liam Castellan scrutinizes the play during rehearsal on Nov 15 for “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” at IU’s Wells-Metz Theatre in Bloomington

By Madeline Dippel Special to the Hoosier Times

This fall season, third-year M.F.A. director Liam Castellan brings Bertolt Brecht’s play “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” to life at Indiana University’s Wells-Metz Theatre.

The play, focusing on the fictional mobster Arturo Ui and his attempts to gain control of Chicago’s cauliflower industry, acts as an allegory about Hitler’s rise to power.

Though this is originally the main theme of the play, Castellan’s depiction delves deeper into the patterns when a tyrant gains power, thus giving a broader view of the situation, he said.

Castellan said he began his interest in theater as an actor throughout grade school and high school, leading to his undergraduate theater education at Northwestern University.

During his time at Northwestern, he decided to expand his talents by directing a play that was held in his arts-themed dorm, where one could rent spaces for productions.

He continued to act, but Castellan said by the time his undergraduate career ended, he realized that he is a director who enjoyed acting.

“Something made sense about being able to see the relationship with actors and space, talking to them and working towards a unified stage event,” he said.

Castellan has previously directed at IU and, over the summer, worked with local children’s theater company Stages, which he said he learned of through the former executive director of the camp and current Ph.D. student Josh Robinson.

“It seemed like a great challenge,” he said. “Grad school should be a time for trying new things, and Stages was definitely one of them.”

He worked with 20 students, mostly ages 6 to 9, to put on a pirate show tailored for elementary school children, he said.

Castellan said he had done some previous work with youth theater, but never with that many students in that tight an age range.

“It was very different than what I’m working on right now,” Castellan said. “Though I am sure there are things in common with the large-scale Brecht play.”

His production of Brecht’s “Arturo Ui” is Castellan’s thesis project for the graduate program at IU.

While staff members advise the M.F.A.s and occasionally step in to help with design or play roles, Castellan mainly works with other students, graduates and undergraduates.

He said he does not think about directing them as helping them and expanding their knowledge, but looks at what the other students bring to the table in the process of telling the story.

“We have really talented, dedicated people here,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons that I chose this program.”

Glynnis Kunkel-Ruiz, playing Arturo Ui, left, dumps Dogsborough, played by Athena Kopulos, from a wheelchair during rehearsal. Alex McIntyre | Herald Times

Castellan’s production of the male-dominated play predominately has women playing the roles, including the lead of Arturo Ui, played by Glynnis Kunkel-Ruiz.

Kunkel-Ruiz said she enjoys working with Castellan and knew that she would, even during auditions, as he gave different styles for her to act out the script. 

Through this play, she said, there has been a lot of self-discovery because she is a woman playing a male role, and that is something she sees in all of the women playing the male roles.

“This is a play about how democracy can go so quickly into dictatorship,” she said. “This is a play about humanity.”

“Arturo Ui” starts Friday at the Wells-Metz Theatre.

If you go

WHO: IU Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance

WHAT: “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui”

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Dec. 5-9; 2 p.m. Dec. 9

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre, 275 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington

TICKETS: $10-$20; 812-855-1103, theatre.indiana.edu.

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. For this and more arts news around town, visit The Herald Times Online.

About IU Theatre Department

Welcome to the 7th & Jordan blog. This blog is a peek behind the curtain at the productions and people at Indiana University's Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance.
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