Directed by Anthony Ingram
At Signal Ensemble, Chicago
Wacky satirical farce deftly played for laughs
In one of the funniest show of the year, Accidental Death of an Anarchist is a truly funny Italian farce reminds me of a Marx Brothers film. It is a stinging satire on government corruption and incompetence, Accidental Death is a cleverly written work that goes from political satire to pure manic comedy without missing a beat. The lampoonery features an Italian police headquarters in Milan (set design by Melania Lancy) that features a large rear double panel window, a shop-worn desk and large number of file drawers symbolic of governmental bureaucracy.
Italian Noble Laureate playwright Dario Fo’s 1970 play satirized the topsy-turvy tale of an actual “accidental” death, ruled a suicide by the Milan police detectives. Fo’s farce combines a political agenda with pure, in-your-face slap-stick comedy. When a mental patient, aka, the Madman (Joseph Stearns in a tour de force performance) adopts the persona of the Chief Judge, mayhem erupts. We meet bumbling inspectors, goofy uniform officers and a curious reporter in search of an expose. Fo uses the zany, wild, door-slamming elements of farce together with the technique of “counterinformation”—wild over-statements with some facts included to sharpen the bite of the play. The result is wacky comedy filled with a strong message.
Let me state that Accidental Death of an Anarchist is knee-slapping comedy. It doesn’t need to be anything else to be terrific entertainment. I laughed so hard (and much) that I was as exhausted as the players. The main reason to see Accidental Death is Joseph Stearns, period. This guy is a comic master. How he maintains his manic persona throughput is amazing! His character, the Madman, not only anchors the plot, but he is the focal of most of the humor.
Complete with several adlibs and contemporary references, Stearn’s Madman is a clever maverick whose impersonations include a doctor, a police detective and a chief judge. Stearns weaves his crazy character so convincingly that we start laughing in anticipation of his next action; it only takes a smile from Stearns since we know he’ll knock out a funny bit like he already has. Stearns is in complete comic command of this show.
Vincent Lonergan, Anthony Tournis, Eric Paskey and Simone Roos add their comic craft and play off Stearns effectively Add the two uniformed cops: Elizabeth Bagby and Christopher M. Walsh and you have a crew of zany law enforcement idiots. The dim-witted cops get slapped, punched, kicked, and poked in the face, sat on all while trying to convince the chief judge that they didn’t help the anarchist out the fourth floor window.
This is a clever, well-timed timed comedy filled with many physical, verbal and farcical moments. You’ll laugh and admire the work by this cast. Joseph Stearns alone is worth the ticket price!
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: February 17, 2011
For full show information, check out the Accidental Death of an Anarchist page at Theatre In Chicago.
At Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W. Bernice Ave, Chicago, IL, call 773-347-1350, tickets $20, $15 for industry/students/seniors, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours with intermission, through March 19, 2011