The Performing Arts and Social Justice (PASJ) department had a full house for four of their six showings of “Ubu King President.” This was an impressive and unsurprising feat for the department, as the production offered biting political commentary just days before the 2016 presidential election.
“The tight crowd anticipated the play as coordinators and ushers squeezed as many as could fit into the LoMo theater,” said sophomore advertising major Nathaniel Fleming, who attended “Ubu King President” for the sold out Thursday Oct. 27 showing. “I had to watch this play for class, so I stuck with my seat in front of the front row, on the ground right at the actors’ feet.”
Before the show began, cacophonous experimental music played, actors joked around onstage and applied dramatic makeup — pale white faces, dark black circles around the eyes, smeared and smudged red lipstick. They were barely recognizable.
The play is based off of the 1896 absurdist political commentary “Ubu Roi,” or “Ubu King” by Alfred Jarry. Jarry’s work opened and closed on the same night, as audience members were offended by the play’s raunchy and disturbing nature. “Ubu Roi” became known for its sharp criticism of greed and wealth. Today, “Ubu King” is considered a groundbreaking, satirical precursor to surrealist and absurdist works that would later appear in the 20th century. Although the original production literally caused riots in Paris after it’s premiere, PASJ’s modern rendition delighted the contemporary crowd. And that was because it directly compares its vulgar and power-hungry main character, Father Ubu, to the one and only Donald J. Trump.
Senior Matthew Morishige played the lead, merging the ridiculous role of Father Ubu with Trump’s (eerily similar) persona. Morishige nailed the staccato “outside” voice of the presidential candidate, proving he’s gained experience as a student in the PASJ department.
“My favorite part about the play was how incredible everyone’s acting was. The Donald Trump impression was spot on!” said freshman Isabel Hamblin.
Notorious Trump-isms frequently work their way into the play’s script, and they maintain the momentum of Morishige’s entertaining impression. Mentions of “St. Reagan,” locker room talk and nasty women pop up throughout the script, tying Donald Trump’s rhetoric to the ignorant dictator Father Ubu.
Director Robert Varea’s adaptation offers stinging political commentary through Father Ubu’s garish behavior, staying true to the play’s genre. His distrust of Trump stems from his personal encounters with despotism. “I am a survivor of brutal dictatorship,” he said. “I moved here from Argentina. I can smell too much of that stench on Mr. Trump and his campaign not to pay attention and respond in some way.”
The opening dialogue establishes the comparison between the play’s initial setting and America’s current political climate, and buzzwords like “wall” and “Muslim” are dropped throughout the scene. The parallels only intensify from there. Later in the play, the generous and caring King Venceslas, played by freshman Joshua Aploan, brushes off accusations against Father Ubu, despite the lead character’s plot to kill him and steal his throne as King of Poland. Venceslas says that Ubu is personable and reasonable, similar to many first impressions of Donald Trump.
After Father Ubu assumes power of Poland, Varea’s vision of a Trump presidency begins to unfold through his modification of the play’s primary plot. Father Ubu is advised to throw money into crowds of starving Poles, with the claim that it will incentivize citizens to pay their ridiculous taxes. He starts impractical wars with powerful ally nations (namely, Russia). Although this war is a downhill struggle for Ubu, he remains incorrigibly confident. Once Russian troops chase him out of Poland (and to Bakersfield, CA, of all places), he yells, “I can still see Russians everywhere… Maybe I can find me a new bride!”
Some audience members were overwhelmed by the many mentions of Trump. “The Trump jokes didn’t stop throughout the play,” said Fleming. “Dialogue was littered with political and personal references until the ending. It was exhausting to listen to “President Ubu” for an hour and a half.”
Varea says that he and PASJ dramaturge and USF alumna Nicky Martinez had trouble sifting through “the constant flow of one liners provided by Mr. Trump during his campaign,” and they had to choose which phrases would work best in the context of the play. “We wanted to stay true to the original UBU but it was hard to resist so many Trump-isms,” Varea added.
Although the Trump-isms were sometimes oddly out of place, it truly didn’t matter. The play was nonsensical and inherently absurd, just like many of Trump’s actual statements. Words lost their meaning and the setting became blurred. Audience members were excited and disoriented. It was easy to be shocked by the flashy nature of the lights, makeup, wardrobe, acting styles, foul language… and forget about the context of the scene all together. Somehow, this is the strongest comparison to Trump of them all.
Photo Credit: Gabe Maxson/ PASJ