There are perhaps two companies in the twentieth century which redefined theatre 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 the University of California Berkeley July 1 & 2, then at UCLA's Freud Theatre 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 Sept. 1. The new company will keep the "Berliner" name but will break from their Brecht tradition and begin producing the work of other playwrights.
Together with The Berliner Ensemble, Brecht created a new way of looking at theatre with his "theatre of alienation" -- a theatre that sought techniques to distance the audience from becoming romantically involved with the characters and keep the audience thinking logically rather than emotionally.
The Berliner Arturo Ui, helmed by another famed German playwright, the late Heiner Muller (Hamletmachine), premiered in 1995 -- immediately becoming one of the company's biggest successes. 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 Arturo, the unemployed son of simple people from the Bronx, 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 warning of Hitler and Nazism. During the UCLA dates, The Ensemble will present a Gala reception for opening night on July 7, with the ticket $125.
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