IU stages the “Gangster show to end all gangster shows”

November 7, 2017

IU Theatre wraps up the first half of its 2017-18 Season with Bertolt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. Written in 1941, Arturo Ui is Brecht’s heavily satirical, thinly-veiled allegory for Hitler’s rise to power.

Arturo Ui tells the story of a fictional mobster’s unrelenting attempts to gain control of the Chicago cauliflower racket…by any means necessary. Set in the 1930’s, this gangster spectacle illustrates how easily a tyrant can manipulate the masses, causing democracy to slide into dictatorship.

Born in Germany in 1898, Bertolt Brecht began his playwriting career in the late 1920’s. Fleeing Germany in 1933, Brecht eventually made his way to the United States, where he would live from 1941 to 1947.  After returning to Europe, he founded the Berliner Ensemble with his wife, actress Helene Weigel. Other notable works by Brecht include The Threepenny Opera and Mother Courage and her Children.

M.F.A. director Liam Castellan will bring a gender-blind cast production of Arturo Ui to the stage as his third-year thesis project. “My initial idea was that half of the cast would be women. Sticking with gender as written would have tied my hands in casting the most talented actors available,” says Castellan. “One of Brecht’s goals was to make the familiar strange. Cross-gender casting is a way to do that. By changing the gender of the villain, does it change the audience’s perception of the character?”

Dramaturg Kathryn de la Rosa points out that “Brecht takes gangster film tropes and combines them with references to Shakespeare. His main source of inspiration was Richard III, explicitly stated in the prologue, and the play makes references to Macbeth and Hamlet — which each have enough intrigue and bloodshed to put them on par with gangster lore.”

In response to Brecht’s signature meta-theatrical style, Castellan says, “I’m fascinated by how Brecht uses verse and other facets of epic drama to tell a modern story. Brecht uses the American gangster myth to take a fresh look at one of history’s greatest monsters, seeing through his infamy to explore the actual path he took to gain power.”

The Arturo Ui creative team includes IU M.F.A. students Jennie Fischer (Scenic Design), Qi’er Luo (Lighting Design), Alec Parson (Technical Director), Jeremy Smith (Props Master) and Scheumais [hay-mish] McHenry (Sound Designer).

The cast of Arturo Ui is comprised of thirteen women and two men. Included in the cast are two first-year M.F.A. acting students, Glynnis Kunkel-Ruiz and Ellise Chase. “I am so excited to take on a role not usually played by a female actor,” says Kunkel-Ruiz, who plays the title role. “Arturo is such a dynamic character. In him we see what some people are willing to do for power and how that power changes them.”

WHAT: IU Theatre presents The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui by Bertolt Brecht.

WHEN:  December 1, 2, 5 – 8 @ 7:30 p.m. and December 9 @ 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Wells-Metz Theatre, Lee Norvelle Theatre and Drama Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave.

TICKETS: Regular admission is $20 for adults, $10 for students. 812.855.1103 or theatre.indiana.edu.

For more info and interview requests, please email Amy Osajima at aosajima@indiana.edu.