There are perhaps two companies in the twentieth century which redefined theater as we know it: Stanislavski's Moscow Art Theatre and Bertolt Brecht's Berliner Ensemble. The Berliner Ensemble, started by the playwright/director/theorist in 1949, will make its U.S. debut in California with a production of Brecht's Arturo Ui at University of California Berkeley July 1 & 2, then at UCLA's Freud Theater July 7, 9, 10 & 11.
These performances will mark the end of the world renowned company, which will disband after the July 11 production, then reconstitute itself under the new leadership of Claus Peymann, currently director of the Vienna Burgtheater, on September 1. The new company will keep the "Berliner" name but will break from their Brecht tradition and begin producing the work of other playwrights.
The Berliner Arturo, helmed by another famed German playwright the late Heiner Muller, premiered in 1995 -- immediately becoming one of the company's biggest successes ever. The production has toured extensively since the fall of the Berlin Wall and has been seen in Milan, Moscow, Avignon, Istanbul, Lisbon, Buenos Aires and numerous other cities. Famed German actor and current artistic director of The Ensemble, Martin Wuttke, stars in Arturo Ui ,which is performed in German with English subtitles.
In Arturo, written in 1940, it's 1920 and the unemployed son of simple people from the Bronx, Arturo goes to Chicago with seven thugs to bring peace to the vegetable market. While posing as a law-abiding family man, he's at root a ruthless hoodlum intent on establishing a monopoly racket, called The Cauliflower Trust. As such, he sells protection to legitimate businessmen against burglaries. Brecht's play tells an Al Capone-based tale, an allegory against Hitler and Nazism.
The tour of Arturo was made possible by the Goethe-Institut German Cultural Center in association with Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatre. For tickets for the Berkeley dates ($24 - $54), call (510) 642-9988.
For tickets for the Freud Theatre dates ($49-$69), call (310) 825 2101.
-- By Sean McGrath