Story by Abbie Blach
Say tomorrow you wake up, make your morning coffee, and take to Facebook to read the latest posts from your friends, and scrolling through your feed you read the headline, “The Chicago Sun-Times is a failing newspaper.” Whose words would you think inspired that declaration – or whose Twitter handle? You can give me three guesses, but I think I only need one.
“The words of the Arturo Ui script could be taken out of The New York Times or the Washington Post right now. The things that Arturo says are so Trumpian and Bannonesque, it’s pretty scary. It’s pretty frightening,” said Walt Jones, director of CSU Theatre’s performance of Bertholt Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, which opened March 3 at the University Center for the Arts.
The play portrays the rise to power of the title character Arturo – mirroring the rise of Hitler, but told through the gang land setting of 1930s Chicago – appealing to a people who turned to him in an hour of need, though they didn’t fully understand the man, or at least didn’t want to.
“The title is ‘The Resistible Rise,’ meaning the public could have resisted, but they didn’t,” stated Jones.
For Jones, Stephen Sharkey’s translation of Brecht’s original work being a resemblance of any given American politician is just coincidence, and despite Jones’ perception about history repeating itself, the audience’s interpretation is strictly its own, as Sharkey’s translation didn’t need tweaking to become politically relevant.
“One of the things I want to make sure the audience understands is that we didn’t fool around with this text,” he said. “When Arturo calls the Chicago Sun Times a failing newspaper, that’s exactly what the script says … The big challenge for us it to make sure that the audience knows that this is word-for-word.”
Clarity for the audience is hardly the only challenge Jones encountered in his direction of Arturo Ui, it may have just been the first. The second? Casting the title character.
“The character as written is not Hitler. It’s not Capone, it’s not Groucho Marx, it’s not Richard the Third, and it’s not Trump,” he said.
Arturo, as Jones deems, is a blend of all those figures, yet still stands alone. To call Arturo “Hitler” would be too simple, to call him “Trump” would modernize him, and to call him “Capone” would be kind. So internally, Jones refers to him as “Rickert,” after Zackery Rickert, the CSU student actor found to encapsulate all the thuggish behavior and complexities of one man’s rise to take power.
Much like Jones, Zackery Rickert was faced with the difficulties of past and present political figures colliding.
“Every time I read through a scene, I read a line that I suddenly realize I have heard somewhere before, and I realize that I have heard it all very recently from our current presidential administration,” Rickert explains. “So, anything our audience hears in the play that President Trump or his administration has said was not added by us, it is merely an unfortunate coincidence.”
History and fiction are marred by coincidence for both Jones and Rickert, and the task of showing the character’s path, without being a direct impersonation, needed to feel organic.
“The most challenging aspect of the role is copying somebody in history as best as I can without using their own words,” Rickert said. “The play is about the rise of Hitler, done as a gangster play, and it has been challenging to incorporate this real life person into my own physicality. It’s a challenge to show the rise of this man from a nobody, who can’t stand up straight, to the notorious legend we all know today.”
CSU Theatre invites campus and community audiences to watch the play, and perhaps enter into their own dialogue about its relevance. The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui runs through March 11 in the Studio Theatre at the University Center for the Arts. Tickets: csuartstickets.com