Review: ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST Challenges Modern Sensibilities via the Mind of a Maniac
Dario Fo (1926 - 2016) was an Italian satirist, actor, playwright, comedian, singer, theatre director, stage designer, songwriter, painter and recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Literature. Upon awarding it to him, the committee highlighted Fo as a writer "who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden." His wickedly funny and politically biting satire, ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST, is based on real-life events involving the Italian rail worker and anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli who died under mysterious circumstances while in police custody in 1969. Pinelli, accused of the notorious Piazza Fontana bombing, was cleared of the charges after his death, but the events that led to Pinelli's death have never been revealed.
This world-renowned farce is produced in honor of one of The Actors' Gang inspirations and mentors, Dario Fo. His ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST is directed at an incredibly fast and mind-boggling pace by Will Thomas McFadden, on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, through March 9th. Fo's works are characterized by criticisms of organized crime, political corruption, political murders, Catholic Church doctrine and have employed topics from current news. In this piece of classic international theatre from 1970, Fo writes of a madman who invades a police station interrogation room where an anarchist accused of bombing a railway station has recently "accidentally" fallen out of a window. Donning various disguises and voices, the madman manipulates policemen into a truth-inducing hysteria in his attempt to discover what really happened.
"When I first read ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST, as a young theater student, it knocked me off my feet and inspired me to write for the theater. Dario's wicked humor and courageous and uncompromising satire gave me great inspiration to create theater that was relevant, entertaining and dangerous in its uncompromising telling of truth to power" said The Actors' Gang artistic director Tim Robbins. "Many years later, to my absolute delight, I was honored that Dario became a friend, supporter and mentor to me and The Actors' Gang. This play is a touchstone for our theater: its fame as one of the great comedies of modern theater is well earned and I am not alone in viewing it as a masterpiece that maintains its relevancy and importance today."
But be forewarned, this play presents a very leftist political view of the world it is satirizing, including jabs at political figures, law enforcement, as well as the press and pop culture icons. But with so many ideas presented at such a breakneck pace, I found it almost impossible to remember all the relevant societal observations being made and left feeling very confused on what I had just seen. In fact, the one quip that still sticks in my mind is that "Scandal is the fertilizer of democracy," creating the distraction needed to take our attention away from the real issues at hand. And certainly, that is exactly how the media sways the public away from what we really ought to be thinking and speaking about on a daily basis, instead of wondering what is going on with the Kardashians.
One thing I can recommend about the show is the incredible, multi-dimensional performance of Bob Turton as the Maniac who invades a police station in an attempt to uncover exactly what happened when an anarchist brought in for questioning who, it was reported, jumped out of a 4th floor window to his death, an event reenacted as the very first moment of the play. Turton is a wonder of craziness onstage from start to finish, constantly challenging the police staff to tell the truth about what really happened as he morphs from one outrageous character to the next. Of course, it helps that he broke into the office and took many of the case's files in which opposing eyewitness accounts create enough of a challenge for even the officers themselves to begin questioning just what happened.
The rest of the ensemble move through their roles from absolute reality to the most off-kilter behaviors thanks to The Maniac's encouragement. I especially enjoyed their rollicking rendition and cleverly humorous choreography to Peter, Paul and Mary's "Where Have all the Flowers Gone." All the characters are loosely-based on the real people involved in Giuseppe Pinelli "accidental death," including (in alphabetical order) James Bane as Officer Chester, Ethan Corn as Captain Bertozzo, Julia Finch as The Journalist, Adam J. Jefferis as Captain Adler, Tom Szymanski as Officer Dudak, and Guebri Vanover as the female Police Chief. And even as they question exactly what is going on, somehow the verbal and character machinations of The Maniac get all of them following his lead down a path of no return. I challenge you to figure out exactly what lesson is really being taught about the ways in which the truth can be modified and falsehoods made real without you even realizing what is going on in our lives on a daily basis.
Tickets for ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST are $34.99, Seniors: $30, Under 30 and full-time students: $25, Thursday Evenings are "Pay What You Can." Tickets are available online at www.TheActorsGang.com or by phone at 310-838-4264. The Actors' Gang Theatre is located at The Ivy Substation at 9070 Venice Blvd, Culver City, CA, 90232.
Famed artist Ralph Steadman, known for his iconic images a lifetime of illustration, magazine and other work, including his longtime collaboration with Hunter S. Thompson, created the show's logo to reflect the production's context. A very interesting, if somewhat artistically-challenging, Dario Fo-Ralph Steadman exhibition is on view in the lobby of The Actors' Gang throughout the run of the play starting one hour prior to each performance.
The Actors' Gang was founded in 1981 by a group of young actors looking to build a theater that would present relevant and vibrantly entertaining plays. Over the past 38 years, The Actors' Gang has performed for audiences in Los Angeles and throughout the world, on five continents and in 40 U.S. States. Be sure to browse the display cases in the lobby about their groundbreaking Prison Project, currently in twelve California prisons, serving incarcerated women, men and children with rehabilitation programs that significantly reduce the recidivism rate, and their Education Department reaching thousands of children in Los Angeles public schools to discover confidence and creativity with through in-school immersion and after-school programs and by participating in classes that encourage acceptance, respect and team building in a fun and impactful way.
Photos by Ashley Randall