TAMPA — You’ve seen him before, and you’ll see him again. But how did he arrive at such a place of power?
That’s the question explored in “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui,” Jobsite Theater’s production running now through June 5.
Written by Bertolt Brecht in 1941 while he was in exile from Germany during World War II, the play is a satirical allegory of the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, told through the lens of 1930s Chicago gangsters. It was translated by George Tabori.
Arturo Ui is a small-time crook who worms his way into controlling Chicago’s green-grocery trade. Double-crossing, murder (take note: there are gunshot sounds in the show) and the culpability of people in power and the masses lead to the success of his eventual takeover.
Directed by David M. Jenkins, the fast-paced play is packed with snappy dialogue, slapstick and a few songs. The eight-member cast all play multiple roles, quick-changing jackets and hats as fast as they slip into the next character. Accents change from Mid-Atlantic for those in power to the rough, gritty talk of Chicago gangsters.
As Arturo Ui, Derrick Phillips transforms from an ambitious buffoon to a terrifying bigot. Early in the play there are glimpses of what’s lying underneath — he speaks of hating “Jews and bicyclists” — but by the end his list of perceived enemies is much longer. As his loyal goon, Roma, Spencer Meyers is menacing.
An interesting part of Ui’s rise is that as he gains more power, he wants his image to mirror what the “hicks” think a powerful man looks and sounds like. It feels realistic, the powerful ruler trying to connect to the masses for whom he has no respect.
In one hilarious scene stolen by Colleen Cherry, Ui has hired a Shakespearean actor (Cherry) to teach him how to speak and hold himself. Cherry hams it up (which the role undoubtedly calls for) as she feeds Ui excepts from “Julius Caesar” as fodder for his speeches.
He creates the straight-legged march and the victory salute arm gesture synonymous with Nazi soldiers. Phillips is goofy as he develops these movements, but visions of how they were implemented are chilling.
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Another upsetting moment comes when Ui and his henchmen (the versatile Katrina Stevenson and Giles Davies) show up with his symbol — a U intersected by an I in a circle surrounded by red, emblazoned on their sleeves. In this moment, Ui has sealed his fate, as well as the fate of the people he’s lording over. And videos (directed by Jenkins) add to the moment, with one particularly sobering still from “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
All of the actors deserve credit for nimbly revealing the play’s complexities, so shout-out to Andresia Moseley, Blake Smallen and Hugh Timoney, who have not been mentioned yet.
Because this play mirrors some contemporary events, there are things like a judge (also played by Phillips) proclaiming “fake news” during a trial.
Those behind the production are instructing audiences to sit in the closer front rows and on the sides in the intimate Shimberg Playhouse for the best experience. Believe them — it really lets you watch this incredible cast in action and notice the nuances in their faces.
They draw you in, making eye contact and sometimes directly addressing you. They remind you that although what you’re watching is entertainment, it’s also based in reality.
If you go
“The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” runs through June 5. Tickets start at $29.50. Shimberg Playhouse at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. 813-229-7827. jobsitetheater.org.