Thursday, May 12, 2005

Review of "Accidental Death of an Anarchist"

(Seen May 7, 2005)

Summer’s here, and the time is right for…visiting the theater.

I’m not talking about movies. I mean live people, acting. Get out of the house, away from the tube, and go see one of the many productions available in the next few months.

I have one for you: Burning Coal Theatre’s “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” is at Legget Theater at Peace College in Raleigh. (You can find a copy of the script here, though this is quite different from the adaptation used by BC)

“Accidental Death” is a farce. It’s funny; but at its core it is political. George Bush gets abused, but the play’s target is larger than any person or party. Dario Fo’s script is ANGRY. Hierarchy, convention, politicians, the media: This play spills acid on everything.


There are a few hooks to hang the plot on. The only sane and moral person is the crazy guy, “The Maniac.” Phillip Mutz, as the Maniac…well, he was born to play this. It is demanding acting, having to maintain that level of manic power, driving the play along, moving the exposition, creating our only focus for sympathy. Mutz is terrific, a wayward orb in a broken pinball machine, one only he can make flash and ring and pop.

The other characters are good, too, but the script makes them cartoons. There is so much coming at you at once that you start to laugh about something from ten seconds ago, but if you do laugh you’ll miss the next bit. Let me two examples. Both examples occur after the reporter, played by Lynne Marie Guglielmi, comes on stage in the second act.

I should note that her entrance sucks all the oxygen out of the room, as it is supposed to. She is dressed more like a prostitute than a reporter. The police chief looks at her closely, and demands, “Aren’t you the theater critic?” She answers with her own question, waving her arms, “Isn’t this a theater?” We all laugh. Look, they have crossed the proscenium barrier and included the audience; it IS a theater, so why shouldn’t the reporter be the theater critic?

But that is not what the line means, though it takes 10 seconds to sink in. The POLICE STATION is the theater. The characters write and rewrite the “facts” of the case, mocking the very idea of facts, or justice. Why shouldn’t the newspaper send the theater critic to write crime stories? Isn’t the police station a stage, and we citizens just an audience?

And, then, a few minutes later. The maniac adapts (misquotes might be better) Pope Gregory the Great, in this passage: "Like it or not, I will impose truth and justice; I will do everything humanly possible to make sure that scandals are clamorously exposed; and do not forget that, in the stench of scandal, all authority is submerged. Let scandal be welcomed, for upon it is based the most enduring power of the state!"

The play goes on, but I couldn’t hear anything for a while. This is the core message, Fo’s enraged indictment. Remember how, in the book 1984, the authorities would say that “We are at war with Oceania, and we have always been at war with Oceania!” Orwell thought wars and battles would be the distraction that kept citizens from focusing on problems at home.

But Fo’s Maniac says something else. Who needs Oceania when you have Michael Jackson, or Tom DeLay? Scandals, on TV, blogs, and newspapers….those are our new wars with Oceania. There is constant war between celebrities, politicians and the media, but they all peek at us out of the corner of their eye. It’s as real as professional wrestling, the outcomes no more meaningful than the OJ Simpson trial. But we are distracted, and that’s really the point.

Go see Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Then go see some other locally produced plays. The Triangle can have as active a theater scene as you want. But you have to go.

“Burning Coal’s ‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’ plays at the Legget Theater at Peace College through May 22” Tickets!!!