Using the setting of a gangster infiltrating Chicago's vegetable trade in the 1930s, the Michigan Tech Theatre Company's latest production is a timeless story of corruption, intimidation and violence.
From “The Godfather” to “Goodfellas,” everyone loves a gangster movie. “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” is all that and more. The play written, in 1941 by German playwright Bertolt Brecht, is a satirical comedy that parallels the rise of a Chicago gangster with the rise of Adolf Hitler in 1930s Germany.
The Michigan Tech Theatre Company will present the “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday in the McArdle Theatre in the Walker Building on the Michigan Tech campus.
Director Josh Loar says “this play is really about the rise of a strongman character who sort of uses intimidation to get where he is.”
Michigan Tech third-year student Noah Kozminski is cast as Ui, in what the actor calls “a somewhat challenging lead role.”
“It was really hard to, I guess, feel out the character because it’s not exactly a relatable character,” Kozminski says. “That was one of the first questions I asked the director, ‘should this character be relatable at all?’ And the answer was ‘no.’ So it’s been interesting for sure. It is surprisingly fun to be evil.”
Many characters reflect historical figures such as Ui’s henchman Ernesto Roma, played by Scott Murphy, based on Ernst Rohm, co-founder of the Nazi Party and Hitler’s long-time friend.
"This play is about a strongman character who sort of uses intimidation to get where he is."
Although there are parallels to Hitler’s rise, Loar says he wouldn’t call it “representing history.”
“It’s really a gangster show set in the 1930s in Chicago, if you read into it you can sort of see what it’s drawing reference to, but if you don’t, it’s an entertaining story of the rise of a gangster,” he says.
Loar says that distance is sort of helpful in keeping it from being “too on the nose.”
“I think it is the phrase ‘those that don’t remember their history are doomed to repeat it.’ There is some value in understanding the patterns of history, and this happens over and over again all over the world, I mean this is not just Western culture, it’s every society, when we have economic turmoil or rise of insecurities in the social structure, we have the opening for the strong-man character to appear, and throughout history the strong man does appear and appeals to people's baser instincts and their fears and uses that to take control of things and to make things much worse usually. So to me that is sort of unfortunately an endlessly relevant story.”
From audition to production, Kozminski says the nearly two-month process has felt “nonstop.” Even before the play was cast, the whole production was outlined, “a large endeavor” according to Loar.
“Scenic, lighting and costumes were being designed by one of our faculty, M.C. Friedrich, with student assistants in each of those positions who have taken the classes but weren’t quite ready to lead a show, and so they are sort of getting through the process and doing technical documentation,” Loar says.
“The properties master is a student who is picking and choosing all the props and hand-held items. The sound designers are students, both creating soundscapes, lots of gunfire and occasionally a warehouse fire and composing some original music. Then we have the whole vast production team, running lights, running the sound cues and mixing microphones on the actors' costume changes.”
The cast is made up of 25 members playing around 60 roles and a production crew of 40 to 50 members. According to the director and his lead actor, everyone is enthusiastic and excited about the show.
“Everyone is coming together,” states Kozminski. “I think we are all individually prepared to do what we need to do, but once everything gets in sync and we start going for real, it will be a thing of beauty.”
Tickets for the play are $13 for adults, $5 for youth and no charge for Michigan Tech students with the Experience Tech fee. Tickets are available online at rozsa.mtu.edu, by phone at 906-487-2073, at the Central Ticket Office in the Student Development Complex and at the McArdle Theatre on the evenings of the performance.
Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.