One thing the pre-reunification government did right in East Germany was fund the arts it favored. For instance, the Berliner Ensemble performed in a beautiful old East Berlin theater 50 years after Bertolt Brecht founded the company in 1949, and enjoyed lavish government subsidies for long-rehearsed productions of the satirical master's plays. Now the troupe will visit America for the first time to stage a few performances of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui before it essentially disbands.
Resistible Rise was Brecht's allegory of Hitler's rise to power, told in terms of a Chicago gangster taking over a cauliflower distribution ring. Brecht was living in Santa Monica when he wrote it, and his idea was to show American audiences how fascism could fester in their native soil. The Berliner Ensemble's current version, staged by the late Heiner MYller, is famous across Europe as one of the company's most successful productions. MYller himself had a formidable reputation as a playwright, but he died in 1995, and no other major director has been found to maintain the Ensemble's Brechtian tradition: Europe's old left, it seems, is vanishing. In August, a new director with different ideas will take the helm, and although he'll keep the Ensemble name, he won't further its mission of performing Brecht's plays, and most of the actors will leave. Rise begins at 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday at Zellerbach Hall, Bancroft & Telegraph, UC Berkeley campus. Admission is $24-45; call (510) 642-9988.