Sunday, December 15, 2013

Theater Review: Accidental Death of an Anarchist -- Yale Rep

Eugene Ma, Steven Epp, and Jesse J. Perez in Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Photo � Joan Marcus, 2013.
Political Farce Brought into the Modern Age
By Lauren Yarger
Actor Steven Epp and Director Christopher Bayes who teamed up for A Doctor in Spite of Himself and The Servant of Two Masters at Yale Rep join forces again for Dario Fo’s bizarre political farce Accidental Death of an Anarchist – and count on Epp to interject a whole lot about the modern US economic and political situation.

Based on an actual 1969 event in Milan, Italy, where an anarchist accused in a bombing fell from the fourth-floor window of the police station where he was being questioned, Accidental Death of an Anarchist asks the question, “Did he jump, or was he pushed?”

As the police attempt to come up with a plausible explanation, they are assisted by a judge overseeing the case. What these inept law officials don’t realize, however, is that this is not really the judge, but a Maniac (Steve Epp) impersonating him.

Maniac gets the bumbling police, Pisani (Allen Gilmore), the Constables (Eugene Ma) and the Superintendent (Liam Craig) to reenact their interrogation of the anarchist to find out what really happened. Chaos ensues as the police story keeps changing to cover gaps in it. Inspector Bertozzo (Jesse J. Perez), who questioned the Maniac earlier, starts to suspect he has seen the judge somewhere before…

Things get even more complicated when a journalist, Feleltti (Yale grad Molly Bernard) arrives on the scene to get the story.

Directed by Bayes, the men might burst into a little song and dance, give chase through the shabby office with its looming window (Set Designer Kate Noll) à la the Keystone Cops or suddenly look like a Three Stooges imitation. All of this is enhanced by music and sound effects provided by Musical Director and Composer Aaron Halva and Composer and Sound Designer Nathan A, Roberts from stage right.

The cast pulls it off with some pretty amusing, over-the-top, physical humor and outlandish costumes designed by Elivia Bovenzi. Gilmore gets the spotlight with a stand-up routine, Ma causes sputters with his oblivious, donut-eating cop impression, Perez entertains with bendy limbs and Craig gets to vent. Bernard even gets a moment to ponder why hers is the only female character in Nobel-Prize-Winning Fo’s play.

Then there is Epp, a Beinecke Fellow this Fall at Yale, who eats up the stage with the zany characters and even launches into an “unscripted” pro-liberal diatribe about the state of politics and the economy in the United States today (the play actually calls for current commentary to be added and in doing so, remains contemporary despite its roots in an event in another country five decades ago).

What Epp does impersonating a war veteran with a wooden hand is pretty funny and had one woman in the audience amusingly cackling throughout the bit. In fact, the audience laughed a lot during the whole two-hour show performed with an intermission and it was fun to hear residual laughter – the kind that erupts when people are struck again by the humor in something they just heard – or just got.

Even the scenery is humorous in this production – projections, designed by Michael F. Bergmann, delightfully cause the entire set to move up and down to accommodate the building’s elevator.

Some criticisms: It’s entertaining, but probably would be better as a 90-minute, no intermission piece. The joke kind of wears thin by the end. Epp’s commentary about modern politics is funny to be sure, but would have even funnier had he thrust some barbs at the current liberal administration which is just as worthy of jest. Have you heard the one about how you aren’t going to lose your health plan, have to change doctors or pay more with the implementation of Obamacare? Bud a bum, bum. There also was a missed opportunity as the script calls for the singing of a bit of a song from the Sound of Music, which everyone had just seen the night before in the much-talked- about TV remake on NBC. Where was the Carrie Underwood joke??


Do provides two possible endings for his farce just for some added fun and thought. The production has two endings of its own too – it runs at Yale Rep through Dec. 21, then gets another run March 7-April 20, 2014 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, which is co-producing with Yale Rep.

The show runs through Dec. 21 at Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel St., New Haven. Performance times vary. Tickets $20-$98: (203) 432-1234; www.yalerep.org.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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