Theater Review: An Anarchist Dies, And The Whole Town Falls Apart

Jun 20, 2017

"Accidental Death Of An Anarchist" is an Italian play written by Dario Fo, a left-leaning playwright, loved by many, disliked by others. The Contemporary Theater in Wakefield has taken it on. Rhode Island Public Radio’s Bill Gale says the production surely has its moments.

Dario Fo anyone?  Here’s a quick view. Born into a struggling but tight Italian family Fo, who died last year at 90, became a famed – some might say notorious – author, actor and all-around tough guy against what he saw as the unfair world we live in.

Over decades, his writing and activities brought him the Nobel Prize for Literature along with the emitiy of the Roman Catholic Church. Springing from what he believed was the death of a prisoner at the hand of the Milan police, “Accidental Death Of an Anarchist” is perhaps his best-known play having been done all around the world.

Now, the small but feisty and innovative Contemporary Theater has given it a go. The result is a strong production of a difficult play. 

Fo, you see, chose to put out his defense of a man possibly murdered by the police as an all-around farce, a couple of hours of broad -  very broad – farce. The first half of the play is simply red-nosed clowning. Police officers are shown as foolish jerks who care most for their time off and the ability not to annoy their superiors.

Hi-jinks are their main deal. Cops stumble and trip, fall and yell, and generally make a mess of things. Then, in comes a sort of judge, called Maniac. He is referred to as a male throughout although the Contemporary has the character played by a female.

Getting the picture? “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” is hardly your average well-made play.

At the Contemporary, directors Christopher J. Simpson and Ouardane Jouannot have not shy-ed away from the slam-bang fun. They allow the cast to be as crazy about something serious as you could expect.

And, fortunately, they have strong performers. Kelly Robertson is a springing bundle of drive and bright-eyed fun as Maniac. Small, leythe and quick both physically and mentally, she keeps this production rolling with humor and at least a glimpse of what playwright Fo was after.

Witt Tarantino and Riley Cash as those incipitent inspectors are just fine as they tumble all over the stage. Winfield Swanson is a hoot of a big dumb cop and Christine Pavao makes one of those troublesome newspaper reporters seem quite real.

Now there’s a point in which one of the Inspectors says “It’s an okay play.” That is, perhaps, Mr. Fo speaking of what he thought of his own work. It’s certainly the truth of “Accidental Death Of An Anarchist.”

One more thing. This play is noted for allowing producers to put in some of their own up to date political feeling. In this production, Presidents Nixon, Carter and Obama are mentioned. But there’s not a word about our current White House occupant. Surely, he should be featured in this farce.

"Accidental Death Of An Anarchist" continues at the Contemporary Theater Company in Wakefield through July 8th.

Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio.