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Foothill stages political parable

Bertolt Brecht's 'Arturo Ui' is revamped for the Trump era

In "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, A parable play," Bertolt Brecht, according to a press release, "chronicles the rise of a risible buffoon, a fictional bumbling small-time crook in 1930s Chicago who sees opportunities to amass power. Offering a better world for his cowed followers, Ui blithely employs bribery and corruption on his stunning and unexpected climb to the top."

Brecht finished the play in 1941, meant for an American audience, but it was not produced until 1953, first in Germany. It was immediately seen as an attack on Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. One critic complained that the play, set in Chicago, left out the German people.

The play has been performed on Broadway a couple of times, where it did not linger long.

In 2017, Bruce Norris's adapted version of the play was performed in London. That play likens Arturo Ui to U.S. President Donald Trump, via dialogue and placards stating "Let's make this country great again."

The play "has never been popular," said Bruce McLeod, who is directing it for Foothill Theatre in Los Altos Hills. "It's a sensitive subject, when you think about it. It's not happy. But it makes the audience think, it makes the audience pay attention. It makes them think about the messages that are out there now. The political situation is highly polarized."

McLeod, who teaches in the theater department at Foothill (and who was the second-ever TheatreWorks employee after founder Robert Kelley), has directed a number of plays for the college, including a powerful "Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on American Themes," and a surprising and impressive "Our Town."

McLeod tends to pick plays that have considerable meaning -- "Whatever is the most important topic of the day. I want theater to identify with current issues," he said -- and shows that can employ a lot of actors from the pool available to him at the college and in the community.

"We have 17 in this cast," he said during a recent phone interview. "The original cast had 12, but they doubled (using actors in more than one role) all over the place. We didn't double as much."

The new translation (Brecht wrote in German) and adaptation by Norris "has a lot of modern and current references," said McLeod, "and the language is much less stilted than earlier translations."

"It identifies so much about the Nazis, how the process happened, how they took control ... Many of the things that have happened in the Trump administration are what Hitler did, what Mussolini did, what Lenin did. Get control of the courts, the press, whatever," he said.

"Arturo Ui" has current relevance, McLeod said, because "We are in our own little sound chambers. If we ignore what has happened because of ideology, because we don't agree, or because of fear of retribution, or our complacency, then we are complicit in whatever happens.

"That's basically what the play says: Pay attention, be involved, understand what's at stake."

Freelance writer John Orr can be emailed at johnorr@regardingarts.com.

What: "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui"

When: Nov. 8-24.

Where: Lohman Theatre, Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills.

Tickets: $10-$20.

Info: Foothill Theatre or 650-949-7360.

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