“Accidental Death of an Anarchist,” an adaptation of the play by Nobel Prize-winning Italian playwright Dario Fo, will blow you off your feet. Fo wrote it in the immediate aftermath of the 1969 Milan bank bombing, when one of the crime’s suspects, a young railway worker and member of an anarchist group, mysteriously fell to his death from the fourth-floor window of the police station where he was being held for questioning. This event immediately triggered suspicions of foul play and political terrorism. The production, which is staged in a mundane police headquarters in Milan, features a certified maniac (played by Steven Epp) who uses impressive, diverse impersonations and manipulations to steer the police toward confession.
I arrived at the Yale Repertory Theatre 10 minutes early. Just after I took my seat, a police officer walked nonchalantly onto the stage, surveyed the set, sat down and began to fiddle with an accordion. Like the audience, he was also waiting for the show to start. After the lights dimmed, the man used an old-fashioned, corded phone to make the generic safety announcement that preludes every show. Soon, he is joined by a fellow police officer, and the two of them provide live accompaniment throughout the show using a variety of instruments — including but not limited to an accordion, baritone ukulele, toy piano and tenor banjo. Even before the first line is spoken, it is clear that the story will be a strange one.
The new American adaptation by Gavin Richards features impromptu breaks into song and dance, occasional slapstick violence and references to modern pop culture and politics. “Honey Badger Don’t Give A Shit,” the “Bush-Cheney Weapons of Mass Destruction Desert Shit Storm of Lies and Deception” and The Voice are among the commentaries which keep the audience engaged. The cast-playwright-audience relationship is severely defamiliarized: The characters are well aware that Dario Fo wrote their lines; they waltz up nonchalantly before the second act starts and wave sweetly to audience members; the maniac becomes his real actor-self, going off-script and off-character during a leftist rant; and at one point the maniac calls the stage manager on stage to complain that there are too few actors to perform all the roles in the play. But this unique approach drew me in, causing me to feel more attached to the characters. Before long, I started to enjoy their crazy humor, guffawing with the rest of the audience at the antics on stage.
The police are so comical, stupid and laughably incompetent that I could imagine the end from the very beginning; I knew that they would manufacture their own demise. But because the plot is so predictable, it creates considerable leeway for the actors to be virtuosic. They engage in four-part harmonies, stand-up routines and a whooping, bro-mancing, jumping-up-and-down rendition of the “Anarchy Anthem.” Steven Epp gives a thrilling performance as the maniac; Jesse J. Perez (Bertozzo), Allen Gilmore (Pissani), and Liam Craig (Superintendent) are very convincing fools; Eugene Ma (Constables) manages to carve out a niche in the play, however small; and despite her petite stature, Molly Bernard (Feletti) holds her own in her Yale Rep debut.
This show is the perfect study break. Go see it. If it doesn’t loosen you up, nothing will.
Correction: Dec. 6
A previous version of this article misspelled the name of Steven Epp as “Steven Epps.”