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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 20 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 29
Anarchy rules in Strawshop's farcical production
Arts & Entertainment
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Anarchy rules in Strawshop's farcical production

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST
STRAWBERRY THEATRE WORKSHOP
Through August 4


A farce is a play with a lot of mistaken identities and often some door-slamming, as one person exits and another immediately enters. Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist is kind of a super-farce: Not only do the doors slam nonstop, but words pour from the characters' mouths (particularly the Maniac's) like a hose without a shut-off valve.

Fo's wordy - and funny - play is an important stage record of speaking truth to power. It was written after a police scandal in his home country of Italy, where an alleged anarchist was interrogated for three days and then somehow managed to fall to his death from a fourth-floor office window. Even though this happened more than 40 years ago, the issues presented in this play feel completely topical and current.

The Maniac (Ryan Higgins) is arrested for impersonation, but offers his medical file to an inspector (Galen Joseph Osier) to show he's been diagnosed as mentally ill, and that impersonating people is how his illness manifests. After getting the inspector exasperated enough to throw him out, he hears that a judge is coming to investigate the anarchist's alleged suicide, and he decides to impersonate the judge. Then he talks his way into interrogating the police superintendent, officer, and inspector (MJ Sieber, Jason Harber, and Tim Hyland, respectively) who were involved in the fatal incident.

The interrogation is masterful and tricky, as the Maniac points out the flaws in their reports and 'helps' them think of ways they can exonerate themselves, all the while exposing more and more of their self-contradictions. Things become increasingly absurd, and he eventually makes a demand of his subjects that becomes one of the funniest moments of the play.

Toward the end, a reporter (Rhonda J. Soikowski) appears with more information and more questions, and the absurdity reaches its ultimate conclusion. However, that conclusion is not entirely satisfying - the play essentially runs out of steam. Still, its key points are clearly made.

The production is a madcap affair, directed in a reprise by Gabriel Baron, who also helmed it to acclaim in 2005. He has a great feeling for the pacing of the play and the requirements of farce. The technical support from Greg Carter (set design), Ron Erickson (costumes), Reed Nakayama (lights), and Evan Mosher (sound) is top-notch.

While Higgins uses his body as a highly polished weapon of mass hysteria, his biggest problem is his diction. His farce timing is great, but his wordy delivery is less clear than it should be, as he swallows words in a rush to get them all out. Hyland, Sieber, and Harber all inhabit different police archetypes with panache. Hyland is the silent, hard-to-bluff type, Sieber is the imperious boss, and Harber adds a Gomer Pyle-esque dumbness as he undermines his superiors.

Soikowski has a tough job, coming in late in the second act - by that point, Fo has started to run out of ideas, so her role doesn't fit into the rest of the play quite as well as the others. But her character triggers the ultimate confrontation between the police and the Maniac as embodying 'society's' judgment. In the play's final moment, Fo implies that 'society' has lost. It's a lot to think about. For more information, go to www.strawshop.org or call (206) 427-5207.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com, or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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