By Mike Hoban
Accidental Death of an Anarchist – Written by Dario Fo; Adapted/Translated by Gavin Richards & Gillian Hanna; Directed by James Peter Sotis. Presented by Praxis Stage at First Church Boston, 66 Marlborough Street, Boston through December 17
Who says political theater has to be dour?
Not Praxis Stage, which has updated Dario Fo’s 1970 farce, the Accidental Death of an Anarchist, to deliver a very funny take on how western capitalist political systems “deal with” dissent. The re-worked script also fires a few broadsides at the circus that is the current United States political debacle, with references to “alternative facts” and “Fake News” sprinkled throughout. The play is based on a real life case where an anarchist, who was being interrogated in connection with a 1969 bank bombing in Italy, either jumped or was thrown to his death from the fourth-story window of a Milan police station. If that sounds a little heavy-handed, don’t worry, there’s plenty of clever dialogue and physical comedy to keep the non-Democratic Socialists entertained.
The play opens with a character known only as the Maniac (Alexander Castillo Nuñez) being questioned by clueless Inspector Bertozzo (Daniel Boudreau) in the Milan police headquarters. The Maniac has a long history of impersonating government officials, educators and psychiatrists, the latter of which led to his most recent arrest. He protests that he can’t be charged because he is insane, and through a series of gags that draw on classic comedy bits from the Three Stooges to Looney Tunes, he manages to avoid being locked up. When the frustrated Inspector leaves the office for a meeting, the Maniac returns and finds himself alone with access to the police files. He gleefully begins to destroy them when the phone suddenly rings, and he answers.
It is Inspector Pissani (Danny Mourino) from the infamous fourth floor – one of the law enforcement officials who may have been responsible for the anarchist’s trip out the window – and he is anxiously awaiting the judge that is coming to review the case. The Maniac seizes upon the opportunity to fulfill his fantasy of impersonating a judge, dons a not-so-clever disguise, and shows up to allegedly review the case. The remainder of the play has the Maniac not only adroitly eliciting pseudo confessions from the Inspector, the Chief (Michael Anderson), and the Constable (Alexandra Smith), but he humiliates them along the way – at one point even tricking them into singing the left-wing anthem, “The Internationale“.
Fo’s play was meant to be adapted to the language and culture of whoever was bringing it to the stage (it has been produced in over 40 countries), and Praxis does a nice job with both the source material and their own input. There is a good deal of improvising and breaking of the fourth wall, and the actors are up to the demands that the physical comedy requires, particularly Castillo Nuñez as the Maniac and Mourino as Pissani. The additions by Praxis also include a scorching indictment of the public’s acceptance of the corporate media machine that sounds like a cross between Noam Chomsky and an insanely pissed off Bernie Sanders ( which also happens to be spot on).
While the play is hilarious, the production is a little uneven at times. The frenetic pace of the comedy in the opening scene made it difficult to follow, which was partially due to Castillo Nuñez’ hyperactive delivery, as well as the acoustics of the First Church theater space. But he settles down nicely by the second scene, and gives a very strong performance out of the Robin Williams/Jim Carrey school of comic acting. Mourino and Anderson are hilarious as the spineless cops that will do anything to save face and their careers, and Boudreau and Smith serve the manic action well as comic foils. Tenneh Sillah is appropriately cynical as the reporter Feletti. I found myself laughing out loud during many of the scenes (especially when the Maniac manipulates the police into increasingly bizarre re-writes of the official report), and also nodding in agreement with the angry screed by the Maniac at the close of the play.
This is the first show in Praxis Stage’s second season, which was formed the day after the 2016 election, when the country “elected a particularly stupid and vicious gorilla as the head of our state,” according to the troupe’s mission statement. While this may not be the best show to drag your Fox New-watching uncle to, it’s certainly a lot of fun for those of us on the other side. For more information and tix, go to: praxisstage.com