Adolf Hitler, the Cauliflower King
Brother what aáfight the people saw
Brother, what aánight the people saw
There isásomething cathartic about laughing atáAdolf Hitler. Mel Brooks knew it, Charlie Chaplin knew it, and Bertolt Brecht certainly knew it. His play, The Resistible Rise ofáArturo Ui, makes its Hitler stand-in aálaughingstock asáheástruggles toágain control ofáaáChicago trust for one ofánature's silliest vegetables, the cauliflower. With aáhigh nasal voice and aástrange inability toákeep still, Uiáduckwalks from two-bit extortionist toáGodfather ofáthe cauliflower racket, leaving anáaudience half dead from laughter ináhis wake.
To ensure the play remains just asápotent asáitáwas during the resistible rise ofáthe Fuhrer, Director Heiner Müller employs Brecht's own cavalier attitude towards dead playwrights against the author himself. Müller cuts away bits ofáthe text heáfinds unnecessary for his 1995 production, which toured toáthe 2007 Golden Mask festival ináMoscow. Ináone ofáthe most blatant cuts, heáreplaces the introduction ofácharacters byáanáauctioneer with aáfive minute tableaux ofáthe whole company ináwhich Uiápants like aádog while two gangsters rhythmically wave their fedoras toáPaper Lace's The Night Chicago Died, anáupbeat 70s track heavy onáthe brass. Müller also drastically alters the character ofáUi, who, ináthe text, ifánot eloquent, isáatáleast competent ináhis staccato delivery ofálines written ináiambic pentameter. The UiáofáBrecht's script manipulates himself into aápowerful position using his street smarts. Müller throws Brecht's character away and instead gives usáanáArturo Uiáwho seems more Brechtian than the original, adding shades ofáChaplin's little dictator. This Ui, whose speech sounds like the yelps ofáanáenraged toy poodle, stumbles into power through some divine accident rather than onáhis own merits.
Though heáuses the play only asáaáguide for his production, Müller follows Brecht's theories much more closely. The implementation ofáBrecht's famous alienation effect results ináthe outlandish characterization ofáUi.áNoáone could mistake this grotesque monster for aáreal person, much less Hitler. Martin Wuttke, who plays Ui, shows the audience both the actor who makes the choices and the character. Every movement fascinates, and the effect isálike watching anáalien acting the gangster based onáPublic Enemy. And yet, even though the audience notices every technique ofáboth actor and the character, they are still bamboozled. How does this miniscule man, incapable even ofábuttoning his too-tight sports coat properly, suddenly rise toápower? Perhaps Germany felt the same way.
From Arturo's first appearance, scuttling rat-like across the stage and panting like aádog, heárepulses. When heáfinally stops atáthe edge ofáthe stage, the bare-chested creature flicks his unusually long tongue ináand out ofáhis mouth atásuperhuman speed, pausing every soáoften toáattempt toáeat his own arm. Soon the blood red ofáhis tongue matches the red patch steadily appearing onáhis bicep. Brecht writes aásilly character; Müller gives Arturo's ridiculousness anáedge. After the opening scene, even his goofiest moments are repugnant. The audience hates Ui, but loves toálaugh atáhim.
By the time Uiácopulates with aánewly-minted widow onáher husband's grave, then stands inásuch aáway that itáappears heáhas lost his member, itáisáclear that not only does the audience detest the character, but soádoes the actor. Though nearly impossible toátell from any movement orávocal choice, there isáanáundercurrent ofádisdain ináWuttke's performance. Itáradiates from his eyes, especially during the sheepish bow heágives atáthe end, apologizing for the character.
Müller dislikes Uiánoáless intensely. Even while carefully orchestrating staging for maximum comic appeal, heámakes nothing easy for Ui.áHeádwarfs him with big set pieces and large co-stars, and forces Uiátoádegrade himself inásuch simple tasks asáclimbing stairs orámarching across the stage. Uiástrains toáclimb stairs that larger cast members leap up, and Ui's bandied legs make walking absurd. Müller misses noáopportunity toáhumiliate his mini-Hitler.
Though Uiáwins his cauliflower empire, Brecht, Müller, and Wuttke laugh last. Byáthe time the Russians ended their twenty minute standing ovation-the jolliest and longest I've seen-we reached aácatharsis. Somewhere inábetween the hatred and the laughter, between the production and the audience, weámanaged toámake Hitler roll ináhis grave. Brecht, onáthe other hand, can sleep easily, his life's work continuing toádevelop long after his death.