In the past year, Donald Trump has received much criticism and hatred for leading the Republican Party and wanting to become the President of the United States, and rightfully so. Many people fear he would lead America to war and a police state not unlike Nazi Germany. Australian theatre director Phil Rouse also sees this connection. Rouse has adapted Bertolt Brecht’s classic stage play The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, a story about 1930s Chicago gangsters that parrelel the story of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, to reflect the current political situation in present day America. Milk Bar Magazine spoke with Rouse on his show.
What was it about The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui that inspired you to want to do your own version of the show?
It’s just a fascinating insight study of the power that enable demigods. It’s fascinating to read Bertolt Brecht’s writing, from people in Hitler’s Germany to exile from Europe. Brecht’s theories are wonderful. With the rise of far right groups and their sentiments across the globe over the past 5 years, the time was right to retell this story.
Did you find it difficult to adapt Brecht’s story in your own vision?
This is my own adaption rather than his vision, so no. I’m meddling with Brecht’s story, but in a way that honours ideas of 1930s crime, feel like a contemporary work for the audience and feels recognisable.
Why do you want to tell the story as an analogy of Trump’s rise to power through a plot about gangsters in Chicago?
Is Donald Trump a direct correlation to Hitler? No, but there are enough dangers warning signs that connect the two men, such as the rise of power and military situation. Both countries had financial crises with the Great Depression and in 2008 respectively, and these men rose to power through that. There’s also the xenophobic rhetoric. There are enough interesting parallels. The story is coming out as a warning against how such people can rise. Is it inevitable that they take advantage of other people.
How comparable do you think the Republican party is to the Nazi party?
Not really. The Republicans have wretched to be part of the Tea Party. It’s been a painful demise of what the Republicans do, there will be massive soul searching. They’re not as militarily organised as the Nazi Party. Many people of colour in the USA would not shirk at the comparison of a police state. There are interesting broad stroke comparisons, but when it goes down to the nitty gritty, the comparison falls apart. There are enough cultural problems you can observe from an Australian perspective to see the comparison.
Despite all the criticisms both Trump and the Republican party have faced in the media, why do you think such conservative and perhaps dangerous parties get to gain power and votes?
I think it’s one of those things. They’ve quite cleverly been able to. The supporters of those people are convinced that the media have it in for them, like they’re lying. The more they’re criticised, the stronger their position holds. With the anti-vaccination idea, once people have decided on something, people won’t be told otherwise. They feel the other people are being manipulated by somebody. The proverb is that it’s easier to fool someone than convince someone they’ve been fooled. They’ve had so many bad things happen, although not as much as people of colour in similar economic siuations. They have an identidy that was once important that has been systematically questioned, particularly in the last 30 years. Someone’s telling them they’re not wrong, people don’t want to be wrong. In Australia, Pauline Hanson’s senators won four seats, they said they were the ones listening to people, giving people what they want.
The original play debuted in West Germany back in 1958. What do you think people who saw it and perhaps lived through World War II would think of your version of it?
I don’t know. It would be very different. In this production, there’s a sense of otherness, something we’re not affected by. We’re not playing up on the German part of it too heavily because I’m more interested in contemporary America. It’s a lovely production. Hope they have as much fun as they did with the first production, according to my research. Hopefully they will see comparison, and still have a great night at the theatre and the story’s ridiculousness.
What do you hope the show will achieve, or what do you hope audiences will get out of it?
I think the audience as Australians, sometimes we don’t see ourselves in an international context, so I hope to tap into that. How Australia will be affected into it, being affected by someone like Ui. I hope they have a very fun night at the theatre, but see enough horrific images to be affected and to leave not knowing why they’re laughing.
Originally published here at milkbarmag.com on Friday 26 August 2016