Dario Fo's 1970 play, "Accidental Death of an Anarchist" with it's anti-establishment rhetoric certainly has connections to items in the news today what with the occupy movement and people's disillusionment with the government. But the problem that the current production of the play from Strawberry Theatre Workshop has is that they don't trust the audience to make those connections and instead feel the need to jam them into the script and beat us over the head with them. And while the show is funny and has some amazing performances it also at times comes across as self indulgent and lacking commitment.
Right from the moment we step into the theater we are transported back to the 1970's by a killer set design from Greg Carter, Evan Mosher, Reed Nakayama and Ron Erickson. And soon that feeling is validated by the introduction from Insp. Bertozzo (Galen Joseph Osier) as he explains that we are in Milan in the 70's and a recent scandal has beset the police station. It seems an anarchist who was being questioned on the 4th floor of the station fell (or was possibly pushed) out of the window to his death during the interrogation. So with tensions high everyone is keeping their heads down. Enter the "Maniac" (Ryan Higgins) who has been arrested for impersonating a psychiatrist and who claims to have a mental disorder where he must take on the guises of others. With his manic ways he manages to get the dimwitted Inspector to let him go but when fate drops into his lap the news that a Judge is coming to investigate the recent accident, he takes it upon himself to impersonate the judge and gets the detectives to reenact the events surrounding the death of the anarchist for him and his amusement.
Director Gabriel Baron has infused the show with a kind of clownish hilarity as the maniac leads the buffoonish Inspectors down the garden path. But it was here that lacked some of that commitment. At times they seemed a little tentative about why they were behaving this way, which caused some of the gags to flounder. And while the inclusion of current events into the show can work, here they just felt tacked on and heavy handed and only succeeded in drawing the audience out of the world of the play.
The performances are fine. Higgins turns in the best of the night as the mad man of a thousand faces but then he always throws himself into any part he's in and tends to play crazy extremely well. Tim Hyland and MJ Sieber are hilarious as the "officials in charge" who are manipulated by the Maniac and Jason Harber is giddily eager in the manipulation. Osier as the Inspector who knows the truth about the maniac matches the others on the fun scale, when they allow him to speak that is. Really only Rhonda J. Soikowski felt out of place in the show as the reporter trying to unearth of the truth of the incident. From the moment she comes in for Act Two the energy of the show takes a dip, as her sole purpose is to rehash everything we've already gone over in Act One. And she just seems to not fit in this crazy world that has been built up to that point.
So the production definitely has some downfalls. But it also manages some hysterical moments as well. So it could be seen as both an excellent play as well as a not so great one. And to take a page from the end of the show, I'll let you decide which one it is.
"Accidental Death of an Anarchist" from Strawberry Theatre Workshop performs at the Erickson Theatre through August 4th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.strawshop.org.
Photo credit: John Ulman