North Fork Community Theatre tackles Nazi allegory in ‘The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui’ opening Friday
A sharp-dressed, blood- and cauliflower-hungry gangster with a familiar mustache will soon take the stage at North Fork Community Theatre in Mattituck.
“The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui,” written by playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht after he fled Germany in 1933, satirizes Adolf Hitler’s rise to power through an allegorical story of a small-time gangster seeking to control Chicago’s cauliflower racket by any means necessary. The theater’s production opens Friday, March 17.
The play was published in 1941, before the attack on Pearl Harbor drew the United States into World War II, but wasn’t publicly staged until 1958. It first appeared on Broadway in 1963, with Christopher Plummer in the title role.
Colin Palmer, who is directing the production, said Mr. Brecht “actually thought this would explain to Americans how Hitler came to power in Germany using a very American style of storytelling, which is the gangster story.”
Underscoring the playwright’s original intent is a new video projection system the theater installed during the pandemic.
“It’s written in the script that you actually see what the historical parallel in the scene represents,” Mr. Palmer explained. “We’ve worked in conjunction with [Historic Films Archive] in Greenport and they supplied footage that’s going to be shown on the back wall of the theater of Germany throughout the 1930s.”
Although Mr. Palmer said he has seen productions of this play use explicit references to contemporary political figures, he chose to retain the original Hitler allegory, leaving it up to the audience to draw parallels to the political world of today.
“I think that can be kind of heavy-handed,” he said of updating the play’s satirical target. “And it makes it hard for audiences to see that fascism may be centered around one person, but when you lose the leader of a fascist movement, eventually there’s going to be another leader who pops up.”
Although there are over 30 roles in the play, there are only 15 actors in the production, which means many will be donning multiple costumes.
Georgia Ciaputa of Greenport is one such cast member juggling various roles. She met Mr. Palmer at Holy Trinity Church in Greenport, learned of his theater work and decided to dive back into acting after a three-decade hiatus. Ms. Ciaputa was up for the challenge of portraying three characters: reporter Ted Ragg, an unnamed defense attorney and Betty Dullfleet, the wife of newspaper editor Ignatius Dullfeet.
“The reporter is very loosey-goosey because he’s tipsy, he does things in a casual way and doesn’t really care about offending anyone,” Ms. Ciaputa explained. “The defense attorney is just very serious, tries to win the case for her client who is totally innocent. The wife, Betty, is a little more complicated because she loves her husband, but she also is protecting her business interests and she realizes they both have to get along with Ui for it to work.”
Community theater productions often require performers to play multiple roles, as directors can struggle to recruit enough actors.
“Usually I end up having to play a part in a lot of shows,” Mr. Palmer said, “because it’s hard to get actors, especially for plays, out of the East End. With local actors, a big thing is ‘Is it a play you know? Is it a part you always wanted to play?’ That gets people to come out to auditions.”
Such was the case of Tom Ciorciari of Coram, who was cast in the title role. He found the “Resistible Rise” irresistible ever since he heard a scene from the play performed at Hofstra University in 1978 by Al Pacino.
Mr. Ciorciari said he has enjoyed creating his portrayal of a larger-than-life monster who does not see himself as casting a villainous shadow.
“Obviously the subtext is a parallel with Hitler, but it’s so much fun to play this because it’s written in this gangstery patois,” he said. “It’s like a 1930s gangster film … Hitler filtered through Al Capone.”
Although it can be a challenge for any actor to channel his “inner Hitler,” Mr. Ciorciari paid attention to more subtle aspects of the character while he studied the part and learned his lines. Underneath the bombastic persona, he said he discovered an insecure man who is not even the brightest bulb in the crew of henchmen he helms, and who takes offense that he is not viewed as a bigger threat.
“I think a lot of people who perform have these insecurities,” Mr. Ciorciari said. “It’s a paradox, [actors] have insecurities in their life, yet they’re like ‘look at me, I’m up on stage.’ ”
Although Mr. Ciorciari acknowledged that “there is a heaviness to the piece,” given the historical comparison, he hopes audiences balance digesting thought-provoking material with enjoying a night at the theater.
“It’s a fine line here because there is a parallel to Hitler,” he said. “But my first desire is for the audience to be entertained.”