Though written in 1941, Bertolt Brecht’s “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” proves timelier than ever, as demonstrated at a special staged reading by the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles Sunday evening. Written as an allegory to the rise of Adolf Hitler, Brecht’s version replaces that dictator with the titular Chicago mobster, who rises to power thanks to violence, fear, and corruption. The reading featured a cast including Joe Spano (“Hill Street Blues”), Harry Hamlin (“L.A. Law”), Timothy Omundson (“Galavant”), and Roxanne Hart (“How to Get Away With Murder”) and ticket sales benefited SCLA’s “Will Power to Youth” program.
Director Louis Fantasia said he got the idea to stage the reading when he was watching television. “On my TV, the news channels are in a row, and I flip between CNN and Fox and MSNBC,” he explained. “I happened to land on one network — I won’t say which one — but it was something that was so outrageous and so propagandist I thought, ‘I have to do something.’ And this play felt so timely and relevant.”
Fantasia approached SCLA artistic director Ben Donenberg, who thought it would be a perfect benefit for “Will Power to Youth,” a program that hires young people living at the poverty level to produce and perform a Shakespeare adaptation. The ticket price included an after-party featuring live polka music, German beer, and bratwurst from local restaurant Wurstkuche.
Donenberg added that Mayor Eric Garcetti knows how highly regarded SCLA’s programs are and “issued a challenge to us to raise a certain amount of money.” He continued, “He said he would give us $75,000 to hire 25-30 kids after school and on weekends if we could come up with the money to pay staff to run an afterschool program. So we’re really excited to launch this campaign to match the mayor.” Donations are also accepted online at the Shakespeare Center’s website.
Fantasia said the first actor he reached out to was Spano, who played the title role. “Joe and I did a cabaret of Brecht songs and poems within the 1980s so he’s got the Brecht thing down,” Fantasia said. “Once he said yes, I went out to everyone else, and they were thrilled to do it.”
Brecht died in 1956 and wasn’t able to see the world premiere of his show in 1958, let alone know how timely it would be even 60 years later. “Ten years ago people said Brecht and political theater were dead,” noted Fantasia. “Thank God they were wrong.”