Rick Roberts, Ins Choi, Kawa Ada, Raquel Duffy & Paul Sun-Hyung Lee. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist is a wild farce, a brilliant political satire and a searing commentary on abuse of power and public apathy.
Fo wrote the play in 1970 and based it on the fate of Giuseppe Pinelli, a Milanese railroad worker, who was arrested in December 1969 on suspicion of being involved in a bomb explosion in a bank. After three days of brutal interrogation Pinelli, who belonged to an anarchist group, is supposed to have jumped out of a fourth floor window to his death. A corrupt investigation followed and Pinelli’s death was ruled a suicide.
The play is a farce but the police characters in the play and the reporter are apparently thinly disguised representations of the people involved in the suicide and investigation of the death of Pinelli.
Soulpepper has wisely produced a Canadianized version of the play. References to places, events, people and politics in 1970 Milan would make little sense to us. Ravi Jain (who also directs the play) and dramaturge Paula Wing have changed all of that and the play takes place in Toronto. A large picture of Prime Minister Stephen Harper hangs on a wall and recent police and political misconduct is dealt with mercilessly.
The central character of the play is a Madman. He is an impersonator and an impostor who has passed himself off as a psychiatrist, a bishop, a professor, a surgeon and so on. He is a chameleon who thinks, moves and talks at breakneck speed. It is a big and difficult role and Kawa Ada does it with relentless energy and outstanding ability. Without his prodigious talent and bravura performance, the production would not get off the ground. He reminded me of Roberto Benigni.
The rest of the cast are satellites of Ada’s Madman. Oliver Dennis plays the incompetent Inspector Bertezo. Ins Choi plays also an inspector who is dumb, over-exited and frequently hilarious. Rick Roberts has the major role of the Chief of Police. He is a classic buffoon in a farce but with a sharp edge.
Oliver Dennis, Kawa Ada & Paul Sun-Hyung Lee. Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann
Raquel Duffy plays the inquisitive journalist who asks intelligent questions about Pinelli’s suicidal jump but as with all the characters, her questions are turned on their head by the Madman. Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Daniel Williams play stupid cops and get the laughs.
Director Jain goes after every farcical move that he can develop with a sharp eye and dedication. He devises numerous tricks, uses slapstick liberally and milks every laugh until it squeals. It works most of the time but Jain does not know when to stop. When you get a big laugh, you should just go on to the next one. Jain cannot stop repeating the same punch, kick or pratfall until you feel like screaming “enough already.” There is such a thing as overdoing it.
Jain and Wing take on Harper and especially the Toronto police over gross misconduct especially the shooting of Sammy Yatim in the streetcar and their disgusting behaviour during the G20 meeting. Quite right.
But they do not stop there. They wrote a long diatribe against Harper in the play and had Ada step off the stage and out of character to deliver a lengthy editorial against the Conservative government. No one in the audience disagreed with the content but it was not an integral part of the play. It stopped the farce and the comedy to deliver a political message. Good message; bad place.
Except for the excesses, the production is a fine example of what an outstanding actor and a fine cast can do with an utterly wild play that uses farce to attack corruption.