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Brecht, Jobsite plumb the past – and maybe the future – with ‘Arturo Ui’

Bill DeYoung

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THe cast of Jobsite Theater Company's "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui." Photo provided.

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Generally attributed to philosopher George Santayana, this famous quite sums up nicely what Bertolt Brecht, the German playwright, was suggesting with The Resistible Rise of Arturo Uri.

Written in 1941, seven years after Brecht (The Threepenny Opera) fled his homeland due to the Nazi Party’s rise to power, Arturo Ui – which he subtitled A Parable Play – is a satire on Hitler and other cold-blooded authoritarian rulers, a morality tale of epic disproportions.

In Tampa, Jobsite Theater opens Arturo Ui Friday, with preview performances Wednesday and Thursday.

“Brecht’s big concern was how we continue to let people like Arturo Ui – or Adolf Hitler – how we keep allowing these things to happen,” points out Jobsite’s artistic director David M. Jenkins, who’s directing the production.

“And how these right-wing movements tend to sweep the globe from time to time. And that every point in history, we allow these things to happen and then we’re really so surprised that it happened.”

Derrick Phillips as Arturo Ui.

Brecht began writing Arturo Ui with America in mind, Jenkins explains. “He set it very specifically in 1930s gangland Chicago, for that to serve as the entry point into the very parable itself.

“His idea at the time was hopefully he could jar an American audience into taking note of this, using Cagney and Scarface. Also, satire like Chaplin – he had both the original Scarface and Chaplin’s Great Dictator in mind when he started writing the play.”

The Jobsite production is subtitled A Gangster Spectacle. Ui and his evil subordinates corner the Chicago cauliflower market.

“They didn’t see it in ’41, because nobody would touch it,” says Jenkins says. “This play didn’t even see an audience until after Brecht died.”

However satirically presented, the suggestion that right-wing fascist authoritarianism could happen anywhere, including the United States,” was not a message producers felt good about getting behind. And so by the time it made its premiere in Berlin, it was really commenting on the past.

“However, there are whole plot points and quotes and things in here that are as much Richard III as about are Nazi Germany. And he goes back even before that to Ancient Rome, showing that look, this keeps happening, this keeps happening.”

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui was originally scheduled for 2019 at Jobsite – Jenkins strongly believed it was also commenting on a certain political figure of the era.

The pandemic, however, made short work of that. In 2022, he realized, there are Arturo Uis in every corner of the world. The time seemed more right than ever.

He hopes that bay area audiences will realize that Arturo Ui is not just relevant and timely, it’s entertaining and funny. Brecht made sure of it.

“People don’t think World War II, a parable about Nazi Germany being relevant to today as being something that’s funny,” he says. “Most of Brecht’s plays were meant to be very funny. Some of that gets lost in translation. I think a lot of people take Brecht too seriously. But this play is a satire.

“Now, Brecht throws in these counterpunches where he takes you to this almost high vaudeville style to a monologue delivered very passionately, and very realistically, and very honestly in the next moment.

“So he keeps folks on their guard, and there’s almost the reminders throughout that yes, this is really serious subject matter, but he’s satirizing these people.”

For additional details, and tickets, click here.

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