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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Accidental Death of an Anarchist
This splendidly directed and spiritedly acted political farce is exactly the recommended prescription for how best to cope these days with the woes of economic deprivation, social injustice and political exploitation. If no people, at least according to Fo, have been as quick to respond to these wrongs and to demonstrate their disapproval as have the Italians, the time may be ripe and right for Americans to take another look at the stunningly over-the-top plays by this world class master of political farce.
Accidental Death of an Anarchist seems especially relevant now as we are being deluged with news of terrorists' activities and cover-ups. It was, however, directly inspired by real live incident that occurred in Milan in 1969 in which a man, accused of being a terrorist, is said to have accidentally fallen from the window of a police station while being interrogated.
In his notes, the play's director Paul Mullins reminds us that "most of the information in the play is a dramatic reworking of the findings of the investigative journalists." Those findings were skewed just enough by Fo to bear witness to the lengths to which the right wing and neo fascists, armed and backed by the police, stooped to undermine the protests of the unions and the working class during a time of inflation.
Anyone familiar with either Fo's (in collaboration with his wife Franca Rame five-hour/over two nights Orgasmo Adulto Escapes from the Zoo (performed at the Public Theater in 1983) or Accidental Death of an Anarchist (on Broadway in 1984) will not be surprised by the loose-jointed burlesque style of writing that frames the political messages. The last Fo play that I recall seeing was We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! at the Whole Theater Company in Montclair, NJ in 1985. It's been a long time to wait for another Fo play and experience the kind of frantic, good natured zeal that defines his work.
Presumably similar in spirit to the Fo plays that have made the voyage to these shores, Accidental Death of an Anarchist is decidedly more fun than profound, and more entertaining than illuminating or insightful. That's exactly what makes it so accessible no matter where your socio-political affections lead you. The Maniac, as portrayed by a terrifically off-the-wall Kevin Isola, sets the highly caricatured tone of the play as he is being interrogated for being an imposter with a total of twelve arrests that include posing as a surgeon, a captain, a bishop, a psychiatrist, a lecturer etc. and, t as he quickly adds"but never found guilty."
We are not surprised that the interrogator Inspector Bertozzo (a wonderfully nonplussed Philip Goodwin) and a police constable (a dutifully dim Jeffrey M. Bender) are suddenly subjected to the digressive and disorienting motor-mouthed ranting and raving of man who admits to being committed sixteen times to "the nuthouse."
Facing a jail sentence, the Maniac tries to convince the Inspector to let him stay safely in the police headquarters and to help get confessions from suspects, or "I will throw myself out of the window." The core of the play follows the exacerbated exploits and mad machinations of the maniac, who, assuming yet another false identity, not only creates havoc within the police headquarters but also with the credibility and sensibility of another police inspector (Andrew Weems) and the superintendent of police (Edmond Genest). It was a joy to see how brilliantly pros Weems and Genest underplay their roles as a pair of easily duped dopes. The arrival of a newspaper reporter (a no-nonsense Kristie Dale Sanders) adds to the comical contrivances that drive the play to its maniacal conclusion.
In a style that pays homage to the Italian Commedia Dell'Arte, Fo permits the characters to take time out from their sometimes fiercely agitated but mostly farcical behavior to speak out critically on social and political problems but they seem to be enjoying themselves in the process. It may be that Mullins's twentieth season with STNJ has brought him to a peak as a director with an instinctual flair for farce. Be assured the fine cast under his guidance shows a genuine willingness to take whatever leaps and lapses of sanity it requires to be funny. Even as all the performances have been skillfully crafted into a gratifying collaboration, it is the sheer force and manic drive of Isola's bravura performance that keeps the play from jumping off its objectively subversive tract.
Adding to the fun is set designer Michael Schweikardt's Central Police Quarters setting that deservedly gets a hand as it transports us from one floor to the next. Broadway audiences were not hospitable to Accidental Death of an Anarchist during its brief Broadway run 1984. This may be due to the fact that Fo likes to hit our funny bones with a sledgehammer. Maybe that's just what we need.
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