Bertolt Brecht’s “Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui,” at the Donmar Warehouse in a new version from the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Bruce Norris (“Clybourne Park”), looks and sounds in Simon Evans’s lively if self-defeating production as if it were set in a Chicago speakeasy in the 1930s. Many in the audience are seated at ringside tables that recall the famous Sam Mendes production of “Cabaret” at the same venue, and several brave playgoers get roped into the action and even, ahem, bumped off (not really, of course) — which probably isn’t what they expected when they bought tickets for a springtime matinee.
But not content solely to have the actor-comedian Lenny Henry’s capacious Ui parallel the rise of Hitler, as was Brecht’s intent, the production, which runs through June 17, reaches in the direction of President Trump, complete with a “Make This Country Great Again” banner that drops obligingly into view. Alas, after a while, the anything-for-a-response aesthetic gives evidence of wear and tear, the prevailing impact less chilling than exhausting.
The material feels like an assemblage of turns that are arguably more fun to perform than they are to watch, notwithstanding a game company that includes Giles Terera, Lucy Ellinson, and Justine Mitchell. At the climax, we’re encouraged by Ui to vote either in support of or against his budding powers, but I and others near me chose to abstain. If politics is indeed theater, that presumably counts as a mixed review.