Uproarious Laughter Not an Accident
Talk show hosts and sketch comedy shows have had no shortage of things to write about- they shine a light on political injustices, world leaders and political officials, and other things that may otherwise be depressing and sad to learn about and get most audiences to laugh with them week after week. These people poking fun at current events and leaders taller than them is not a new concept- theatre has been the stage for that for centuries. Successful writers are able to wax philosophical via the lens of humor, and audiences not only are able to laugh but get an incisive look into the void of reality at the same time.
Enter Accidental Death of an Anarchist, written by Dario Fo. For some much needed context of the show, pay attention to the slides they show when you arrive. This is the “preshow”- explaining the nature of the “Years of Lead” that had fraught Italy between the late 1960s to the early 1980s. The slides explain the Piazza Fontana bombing of 1969, the arrest of railway worker and member of the Anarchist party Giuseppe Pinelli, and his death (by “falling” out of a four story window) three days after being detained that had been ruled as “accidental.” Fo had written this play in response to not only the Pinelli’s death, but in response to what the police and media were churning out in terms of misinformation- Accidental Death of an Anarchist is not just a political farce, it is an accusation and an attempt at awareness of what the Italian police and media were trying, or at least capable, of doing.
The play begins where the slides end- with the news of Pinelli’s death, at the police station. A “Maniac” (Malia Wessel) is being interrogated by Inspector Bertozzo (Jake Wolf) alongside the Constable (Dean Mo). The Maniac has been fraudulently impersonating many people, including on psychiatrist and university lecturer Professor Antonio Rabbia. When Bertozzo steps out, the Maniac fields a phone call from Inspector Pissani (Alten Kiakona), where he learns that a judge is going to conduct an official inquiry about the death of the anarchist who had fallen out of the fourth floor window. The Maniac, in a swift flurry of costumes and improvisation, meets with Pissani, the Superintendent (Katherine Altman), and a mustachioed Constable (Dean Mo) and convinces them all that he is indeed the judge coming to review the case. While they are in the midst of reviewing the case (with the Maniac poking holes and getting them to confess to various wrongdoings along the way), journalist Maria Feletti (Annastasia Fiala-Watkins) enters and in an effort to hide the truth from the press, the police officers agree to pass off the Maniac as another officer visiting from a nearby jurisdiction, hence unknowingly furthering the Maniac’s masquerade rabbit hole.
In between all of these shenanigans lies no shortage of quips, lines, and hilarious moments for the audience to laugh at. As director Christine Lamborn states in her Director’s Note, “Although this piece is politically charged – which was its original intent - the use of comedy, farce, slapstick, and satire help to soften the blow.” Lamborn deftly executes the spirit and intention of Fo’s piece, plying strong and tight performances form her actors. Not all the jokes and gags land – there are many, after all – but audiences differ every night, and I confidently the comedy will reach you at least 9 out of 10 times. This is Lamborn’s directorial debut, and she has chosen a strong piece with a voice that isn’t weighed down by the darkness of reality but doesn’t shy away from it either.
Lamborn’s cast is sublime. The police force – Kiakona, Wolf, Altman, and Mo – work delightfully on their own and shine as a unit. Their group bits are well timed and not a single one of them drags. Altman stands out as the Superintendent, demonstrating a fantastic range with her character. Drilling everyone one second, and at the flip of a switch bending to the Maniac’s coy statements, and then back again was an exercise in comedy we could all learn from. Fiala-Watkins, though coming in the last quarter of the show, goes toe to toe with all of them, grabbing her share of the laughs and having one of the most memorable lines of the play: “Why doesn’t Dario Fo write more roles for women in his plays?” The audience clap backed resoundingly. Wessel rounds out the cast, living and breathing the Maniac throughout the entire production. She delivers a sharp performance with remarkable stamina as the play demands a lot from the Maniac. While she is the main character of the play, she rounds out the ensemble and doesn’t make it “her show” (although it is); rather, she clearly the story and raises those around her, lending to a very fleshed-out performance from all.
Rachel Filbeck’s scenic and lighting design was simple and effective- the police office being such a conducive space to the hilarity, and the lighting helping make very dramatic (and sometimes comedic) points land very well. Lamborn, in addition to directing, designed the costumes and she has constructed strong looks for all of her actors, and a special nod to all of her costumes for Wessel- each disguise was more ridiculous than the last, and eventually a wooden leg is involved, but not how you think it will be!
This is the third year for the Chaminade University Collegiate Theatre Festival, and it’s great to see it going strong. Accidental Death of the Anarchist continues through this weekend, June 28-30 at 7:30pm and July 1 at 4:00pm at the Loo Theatre on the Chaminade University campus.