For most Americans, reminiscing about the Italian peninsula typically conjures up various ideas of Italy including: Pasta, Dante, Michelangelo, Mussolini, Gucci, Rome and Fabio Cannavaro.
Yet, it seldom occurs that pasta-centric nostalgia conjures up ideas of the Italian theater, and even more rarely the 1997 Nobel Prize winner, playwright/actor Dario Fo. An even greater rarity is having one of Fo’s politically-charged works performed in the United States. But this weekend, an original Sudler-funded production of Fo’s “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” will be showing at the newly renovated Nick Chapel Theater in the basement of Trumbull College.
The play finds its setting in two corrupt police stations in Milan. The forces are being investigated for the “accidental” death of an anarchist who purportedly fell out of a window in the police headquarters while he was being interrogated by the superintendent of the department and his men. With a raging Maniac thrown into the frantic mix, no one is safe from the maniac, themselves and the truth.
The set, designed by Rebecca Gridley ’09, is pristine, characterized by very few simple items including some lockers, a desk, a phone, a few chairs and a window. It would at first seem that the set is too neat, perfect and tired to be the setting of one of Fo’s hilarious, fast-moving, over-the-top, inflammatory works. Yet the grim shades of black and gray that adorn the stage are a constant reminder of the severity and gravity behind Fo’s comedy. The bright lights, designed by Alex Walker ’08, peer down from the ceiling in suitably minimalistic fashion.
The sparse setting and dim theater puts the production’s focus on the actors themselves, as Fo intended. The most notable performance belongs to the story’s protagonist, the Maniac (Ned Fulmer ’09). Fulmer dominates the stage and sets the melodramatic tone with an energetic and eccentric nature filling out his crazy, but conveniently knowledgeable character, the Maniac. This stellar performance is further enriched by the supporting cast. The energy Fulmer creates is redistributed and tossed around among the rest of the actors, providing bursts of lightning from actor to actor and actor to audience.
Fo’s theatrical style is swayed heavily by his political views, igniting a new style of theater to be delivered in an anarchistic fashion. Therefore the normal rules of theater are completely rejected, for a plot that is absurd, yet captivating. And while the ideas behind the play’s plot are deeply rooted in left-wing politics, the playful presentation of the serious subject matter does not create a feeling of being inculcated to think the way Fo thinks.
In this play, improvisation, direct dialogue and contact with the audience are encouraged. As the plot moves forward, all the characters (save the Maniac) slowly suffer mental and physical breakdowns, ultimately revealing Fo’s assessment of the political system and the overall problems with the government and the media. While there is clearly a script for actors to follow, Fo’s play allows for improvised snippets of current political commentary and other entertaining antics, which director Leah Franqui ‘09 and the ensemble take full advantage of. Although the play only runs for one-and-a-half hours without intermission, at times the plot and the antics go on too long, creating some frustration for audience members waiting for a resolution that eventually comes, albeit a little too late.
L’identita Italiana (The Italian Identity) is not just composed of the ancient ruins and Renaissance masterworks that thousands of American tourist flock to see year after year. Italy also includes its modern citizens, who deal with the modern political struggles that this blistering play magnificently portrays.