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| the berliner ensemble's arturo ui |

Adolf Hitler, the Cauliflower King

By Sarah Ollove
Brother, what anight itreally was
Brother what afight the people saw
Brother, what anight the people saw
Glory Be
Paper Lace, The Night Chicago Died

There issomething cathartic about laughing atAdolf Hitler. Mel Brooks knew it, Charlie Chaplin knew it, and Bertolt Brecht certainly knew it. His play, The Resistible Rise ofArturo Ui, makes its Hitler stand-in alaughingstock ashestruggles togain control ofaChicago trust for one ofnature's silliest vegetables, the cauliflower. With ahigh nasal voice and astrange inability tokeep still, Uiduckwalks from two-bit extortionist toGodfather ofthe cauliflower racket, leaving anaudience half dead from laughter inhis wake.

To ensure the play remains just aspotent asitwas during the resistible rise ofthe Fuhrer, Director Heiner Müller employs Brecht's own cavalier attitude towards dead playwrights against the author himself. Müller cuts away bits ofthe text hefinds unnecessary for his 1995 production, which toured tothe 2007 Golden Mask festival inMoscow. Inone ofthe most blatant cuts, hereplaces the introduction ofcharacters byanauctioneer with afive minute tableaux ofthe whole company inwhich Uipants like adog while two gangsters rhythmically wave their fedoras toPaper Lace's “The Night Chicago Died,” anupbeat 70s track heavy onthe brass. Müller also drastically alters the character ofUi, who, inthe text, ifnot eloquent, isatleast competent inhis staccato delivery oflines written iniambic pentameter. The UiofBrecht's script manipulates himself into apowerful position using his street smarts. Müller throws Brecht's character away and instead gives usanArturo Uiwho seems more Brechtian than the original, adding shades ofChaplin's little dictator. This Ui, whose speech sounds like the yelps ofanenraged toy poodle, stumbles into power through some divine accident rather than onhis own merits.

Though heuses the play only asaguide for his production, Müller follows Brecht's theories much more closely. The implementation ofBrecht's famous alienation effect results inthe outlandish characterization ofUi.Noone could mistake this grotesque monster for areal 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 islike watching analien acting the gangster based onPublic Enemy. And yet, even though the audience notices every technique ofboth actor and the character, they are still bamboozled. How does this miniscule man, incapable even ofbuttoning his too-tight sports coat properly, suddenly rise topower? Perhaps Germany felt the same way.

From Arturo's first appearance, scuttling rat-like across the stage and panting like adog, herepulses. When hefinally stops atthe edge ofthe stage, the bare-chested creature flicks his unusually long tongue inand out ofhis mouth atsuperhuman speed, pausing every sooften toattempt toeat his own arm. Soon the blood red ofhis tongue matches the red patch steadily appearing onhis bicep. Brecht writes asilly character; Müller gives Arturo's ridiculousness anedge. After the opening scene, even his goofiest moments are repugnant. The audience hates Ui, but loves tolaugh athim.

By the time Uicopulates with anewly-minted widow onher husband's grave, then stands insuch away that itappears hehas lost his member, itisclear that not only does the audience detest the character, but sodoes the actor. Though nearly impossible totell from any movement orvocal choice, there isanundercurrent ofdisdain inWuttke's performance. Itradiates from his eyes, especially during the sheepish bow hegives atthe end, apologizing for the character.

Müller dislikes Uinoless intensely. Even while carefully orchestrating staging for maximum comic appeal, hemakes nothing easy for Ui.Hedwarfs him with big set pieces and large co-stars, and forces Uitodegrade himself insuch simple tasks asclimbing stairs ormarching across the stage. Uistrains toclimb stairs that larger cast members leap up, and Ui's bandied legs make walking absurd. Müller misses noopportunity tohumiliate his mini-Hitler.

Though Uiwins his cauliflower empire, Brecht, Müller, and Wuttke laugh last. Bythe time the Russians ended their twenty minute standing ovation-the jolliest and longest I've seen-we reached acatharsis. Somewhere inbetween the hatred and the laughter, between the production and the audience, wemanaged tomake Hitler roll inhis grave. Brecht, onthe other hand, can sleep easily, his life's work continuing todevelop long after his death.