Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist is a dark satire, a farce which lampoons the ridiculousness of bureaucracy and the red tape and cover-up involved in the criminal system. Written in 1970, it is based on the actual events occurring in 1969 involving Giuseppe Pinelli, an anarchist railway worker, and his "accidental" death due to a fall from the window of a police interrogation room. It was later discovered that Pinelli was innocent of the charges of participating in a bomb attack. Accidental Death mimics this incident, with a lunatic (named the Maniac) as our guide.
This show, adapted here by Ron Jenkins (who also translated), has been described aptly as metatheatrical, and the goings on are not to be taken literally. The Maniac addresses the audience directly, does everything but stand on his head to get a laugh, and manipulates the police staff until they not only admit to their wrongdoing, but are completed twisted around in their efforts to cover their bureaucratic asses and make their suspect guilty, whether he really appears to be or not. During its first two years in production in Italy, Accidental Death was seen by over a half million people. However, a 1984 Broadway production featuring Jonathan Pryce did not do well, closing after a mere twenty performances. The play has been produced many times regionally and throughout the world. Its message, or rather its pointed digs, can quite easily be applied to today's society, and the broad humor thinly masks the serious vein of tragedy in such a state of affairs.
As The Maniac, Robert Dorfman is a tight bundle of manic energy. He is in constant motion and very adept at delivering a dizzying amount of dialog. Dorfman works very hard to get the audience to laugh at the lines he is given and exhibits a talented display of physical comedy. Unfortunately, though many lines generate a smile, this is not a laugh-a-minute show. It is fast paced and over-the-top, but the underlying truths and notes that "hit home" are well worth a considerable conversation afterward.
The Maniac is surrounded by bumbling, two- and three-faced police staff members. Standouts in this ensemble are Craig Bockhorn as Deputy Police Chief and Jerry Russell as the Commissioner. All perform quite well, also, in an a harmonizing version of "For What It's Worth." The Journalist (Patricia Hodges), who is anxious to publish an exposé on the police force, appears in the second act to help bring the truth to the surface, but seems to slow down the zaniness. Patricia Hodges does such a fine job with the role, but perhaps is miscast.
The set by Leiko Fuseya is very well done, as the stage is surrounded by signage proclaiming "Blame Everyone," "What Do You Expect?," "Admit Nothing," etc. The office arrangement easily and cleverly transforms into jail room. Costumes by Linda Cho are also very nice, evoking a '70s feel (even though there is post-'70s humor and topical references sprinkled throughout the show).
Pittsburgh Public Theater and Artistic/Executive Director Ted Pappas present Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Dario Fo, translation and adaptation by Ron Jenkins. The co-production with Dallas Theater Center continues through April 4 at the O'Reilly Theatre. For performance and ticket information, 412-316-1600 or visit www.ppt.org or the box office at 621 Penn Avenue.