Playwright Bertolt Brecht is many things to many people, but it's safe to say few would consider his works of heightened theatricality, er, subtle. And as a parable that directly traces the rise of Hitler in Germany through a group of bloodthirsty Chicago gangsters, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui is probably pretty high on anyone's list when it comes to in-your-face political statements — a lesson from the march of history about the abuse of power and manipulation of the common man that is absolutely clear-cut. So even if it's not one of Brecht's best plays (sorry), it's easy to see why our current, er, political climate might make Arturo Ui attractive to adaptor-director Tiger Reel as prime fodder for a piece of tightly focused epic theatre. Unfortunately the ambitious Reel overloads, overextends, and overexplains Brecht's 1941 work, and the result is, er, an overwrought mess.
Reel is obviously passionate and has put together a group of equally passionate actors. As gang leader Arturo Ui, Jamil Chokachi goes over the top and then some with marvelous commitment and physicality. Strong performances from Nikitas Menotiades, Julie Sanchez, Kyle Pierce, Marti Hale, Edwin Garcia II, and Lisa Vachon, among others, help to anchor the somewhat unwieldy large cast; all are to be applauded for taking risks.
But stylistically, with everything incorporated into this production — from Brechtian masks in the form of kabuki/clown/Calavera makeup to 1970s smiley faces; a well-placed Swastika to a copy of My Pet Goat; clever modern corporate signage and product placement to 1930s period costumes and radio drama references — it appears difficult for the performers to stay on the same page, today's political targets only get sideswiped, and the audience gets lost in the process. Mick Schadel's original music, a lovely sort of hip-hop soft pop live track that scores much of the action, is yet another disparate element added to the mix. And at almost three hours, this production is too long with too many messages hitting us over the head.
Presented by and at the Knightsbridge Theatre, 1944 Riverside Dr., L.A. Sat. 5 p.m., Sun. 6 p.m. Aug. 26-Oct. 1. (323) 667-0955.