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May 4, 2004

UT's Death of an Anarchist pleases, and that's no accident

Crazy, uproarious, and at times bewilderingly fast-paced, last weekend's University Theater production of Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist, directed by Chris Wand, was not a play for the slow of mind. The show was a potent mix of slapstick antics, clever jokes, and biting political commentary. To fully appreciate it, an audience member had to catch details, like the reference to BJ food and the tiny rooms in Pierce, or to the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay under our current administration.

Yet even without catching everything—I certainly did not—Anarchist proved highly enjoyable. After the show, I sang "Que Será, Será," the song that blasted from the speakers once the curtain went down, as I skipped—not walked, but skipped—to Walgreens. It wasn't until I read the program that night that I realized what a sobering political message the play had sent.

The play is based on an actual incident that occurred in Italy in 1969, when police arrested an anarchist for planting several bombs around the country. During his interrogation, the anarchist fell from the window. Whether he committed suicide or was forcibly defenestrated remained a mystery, with the police continually changing their reports.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist follows a left-wing maniac who gradually exposes the corruption of the Milan police department; for instance, he provokes the police into admitting that they pushed the anarchist out the window. The play has two endings. In one, all the "bad guys" blow up. In the other, a journalist seeking to report the truth blows up.

The plot of this play is secondary to its powerful political message. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, I came out of the play more amused than disturbed. In other words, the play made me laugh more than it made me think. Some great moments included: a crew member coming out on stage and proclaiming Juicy Fruit the official gum of the play; Pissani (Chris Steele) telling some jokes, like "What's the difference between an anarchist and a basketball? A basketball bounces when you throw it out the window;" Bertozzo screaming, "Hands to the fucking audience!"; and many incidences of physical comedy, such as characters toppling each other over, hilarious mock fighting, the Constable (Drew Dir) earnestly demonstrating a cat's cradle, and some homoerotic poses between the Constable and Pissani.

It helped that the actors were charismatic, confident, and played well off of each other. They were not afraid to act insane. Although they flubbed a few lines, they always went on without pausing or seeming flustered. Nick Carby-Denning especially shone as the Maniac, filling the room with his expressive voice, flailing hands, and wildly gyrating body. Sarah Fornance, playing the male part of the Superintendent, projected a no-nonsense manner. She was loud, aggressive, and played a male just as—if not more—convincingly than some of the other guys. Chris Steele seemed to have a split personality as Pissani, alternately machismo (as when he punched Bertozzo in the face or beat up the reporter) and effeminate, even a crybaby (the aforementioned homoerotic poses, coming close to tears a few times).

I couldn't imagine Drew Dir, with his baby face, as a cold-blooded killer, but perhaps he was meant to be ironic; in any case, he was funny. Felleti (Nicole Flannigan) was perfect as the self-satisfied, determined journalist, and Chris Martin wonderfully played the role of the apoplectic Bertozzo, especially because of his screeching voice.

The set, though simple—a desk, cabinets, a wall with the all-important window, phone, coat rack, chair, typewriter, and papers—was not so minimalist as to seem lacking. In addition, the actors used the space well; their constant, sometimes frenetic, movements across stage kept the audience from focusing too much on the set. The lighting was as simple as the set was, merely serving to illuminate the play for the most part, though the end used more dramatic lighting, with a spotlight on the main character, and a glaring red light representing an explosion.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the "set" was the audience. Audience interaction was a continual element of the play. Periodically, the theater lights would spring on, signifying that the audience was part of the play for a bit. From singing along with the actors as they sang the anthem of the anarchist to the maniac trying on various items of the audience's clothing, the audience was made to feel almost as much a part of the play as the actors.

I heartily enjoyed the play. As Saturday night entertainment goes, it was excellent. If sending a political message was the goal, it came out loud and clear. Accidental Death of an Anarchist might not have changed my life, but I did come out of the experience with a smile on my face and a desire to see more UT shows.