“Arturo Ui” tackles fascism through satire

By Michaela Payne

City College’s actors are busily rehearsing for their theatrical debut of Bertolt Brecht’s dark comedy “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” on Oct. 7 at the Diego Rivera Theatre.  

First performed in 1958 in German, Brecht’s play uses dark humor to tell the tale of a Chicago gangster’s twisted takeover of the local greengrocer businesses as an allegory of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power.

Many actors among the small cast of 12 students, ages 18 to 78, play multiple supporting roles. Some are experienced but others, like Isaiah “Ayah” Fabella, 20, are onstage for the first time.   

Fabella is cast as one of two emcees and as a nervous young gangster named Inna.

“I do dirty work,” Fabella said. “Like beat up a guy, fix a trial and commit arson—helping the lead gangsters gain power.”

The play “helps you to recognize the rise of a fascist government,” Fabella said.

The playwright Brecht called attention to how politicians use fear to gain power. For Fabella, its message is “to speak up. If everyone speaks up, then we can stop things before they happen.”

That applies to discrimination and stereotypes that he and other Asian Americans currently face.

“I want to create positive change for how Asians are represented in the media,” Fabella said.

The play’s other emcee is “Diamond Dave” Whitaker, 78, who is a spoken word poet, lifelong learner at City College and well-known figure among San Francisco’s radical political activists.

Poet-actor Rusty Rebar plays Dogsborough, who represents Paul von Hindenburg, the president of Germany from 1925 to 1934 who opposed Hitler. The character Young Dogsborough is based on Hindenburg’s son, a Nazi, played by Mark Gross, 18.

The play is “very timely… It shows a time in which there are high stakes and a lot of unrest,” Gross said.

Director Patricia Miller called it “the most diverse cast you’re going to see, even in San Francisco.” A City College graduate herself, Miller gained 30 years of experience as a freelance theater director before returning to the school this year to teach and direct.

“I’ve always wanted to work at City College,” Miller said. “It’s important to me to be doing this play, at this time, for this audience.”

This version of “Arturo Ui” was adapted by prominent Scottish playwright and TV comedy writer Alistair Beaton from a 1964 translation by George Tabori.

The play will run Oct. 7-16 with shows on Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. The first weekend is free for students with a City College ID.