Khan Theatre: Accidental Death of an Anarchist

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2003
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Accidental Death of an Anarchist – Khan Theatre/Photo: Gerard Allon

Accidental Death of an Anarchist is a wild and imaginative investigative escapade, a comic tour de force that had me on the edge of my seat, laughing so hard it hurt; the kind of laughter that cracks the rib cage wide open, leaving the heart vulnerable, to take the impact in a direct hit. The Khan Theatre production of Dario Fo’s play in Nissim Aloni’s translation, adapted and directed by Michael Gurevitch, is a fast-paced farce, its verbal acrobatics matched by wacky and precise physical comedy; the Keystone Cops in political mode. It’s the kind of play that demands no less than excellence, the actors must be all-in, giving their heart, mind, liver and limbs with no holding back. Days after seeing the play I am still in awe of the actors’ dazzling performances. Accidental Death of an Anarchist is an outstanding production, reflecting the magnificent artistry of the entire creative team. It’s a celebration of theatre, the power of theatre for truth-telling, a critique of despotism, and the abuse of power.

The original play was written by Dario Fo (1926 – 2016), in response to real-life events. In 1969 a bomb was set off at the National Agrarian Bank in the Piazza Fontana in Milan, killing 17 people and injuring 88. Giuseppe Pinelli, an anarchist and railway man, was taken to the police station for questioning, but fell or was thrown to his death from a fourth-floor window. Despite major discrepancies in the police account of the event, the court determined that Pinelli’s death was accidental. Ultimately, it was discovered that a right-wing fascist organization, Ordine Nuovo, was responsible for the bombings. The program notes quote Fo as saying that much of the play is taken directly from court documents. Set in police headquarters, where the alleged accident took place, the action focuses on the investigation. The original play left room for improvisation (Fo’s forte), and Gurevitch makes precise and passionate use of that freedom.

Policeman (Itay Szor) and Inspector Bertozzo (Yoav Hyman)/Photo: Gerard Allon

Music and movement set the tone as the opening notes of sprightly piano evoke the sensibilities of black and white silent films, with the bumbling policeman (Itay Szor) reminiscent of the Keystone Cops and their incompetent antics. The play takes a playful attitude towards the conventions of the theatre, from the start, with the Inspector (Yoav Hyman) worried about the coming investigation in part because he knows that “the playwright doesn’t like the police, it’s very characteristic of the leftists.” A man has been brought in for questioning, listed in the program notes as The Maniac (Erez Shafrir), he goes by many names throughout the play, for that is his talent and his crime – impersonating a dizzying array of professionals. As actors do. The Maniac is utterly charming as he confounds every attempt to pin him down to anything, with a sweet and mild demeanor that metamorphoses into absolute lunacy in an instant. It is abundantly clear that this is no ordinary maniac, and wild hilarity ensues.

L to R: Carmit Mesilati-Kaplan, Erez Shafrir, Nir Ron/Photo: Gerard Allon

The entire cast is marvelous – from the Superintendent (Yossi Eini) with his disheveled, blood-spattered shirt, to the two policemen (Itay Szor) with their wide-eyed innocent look, the clueless worried Inspector Bertozzo (Yoav Hyman), the terrified Inspector Pissani (Nir Ron) and the fiercely competent journalist Feletti (Carmit Mesilati-Kaplan) who delivers one of my favorite lines in this play. Svetlana Breger’s set and costumes speak volumes, everything is apt, evocative, and precise – from the tailored professionalism of Feletti, to the imaginative accessorizing of some of the more flamboyant characters. Music and lighting set the mood throughout, and the movement is an essential and wonderful element in this farce, conveying a feel of vaudeville with its broad humor, slapstick and pratfalls.

The Maniac (Erez Shafrir)/Photo: Gerard Allon

The Khan Theatre is known for its tight ensemble of actors, and throughout the years it is a pleasure to see their many facets revealed as they take on different roles. Erez Shafrir, who plays The Maniac (I abhor spoilers, so refrain from writing too much about the role), is a gifted comic, who brings an elusive sense of wonder to every role (most recently Napoleon – Dead or Alive!). This character really lets him fly free, unleashing the full spectrum of his talents. Shafrir brings a magnificent madness to the Maniac (if you want to get meta, think Hamlet), delivering a scintillating, dazzling performance with a phenomenal range, from sweet to semi-sadistic, polished restraint to outrageous extravagance, embodying every possible mood and demeanor from calm reason to barking mad.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist

A farce by Dario Fo

Translation: Nissim Aloni; Adapted and directed by Michael Gurevitch; Set and costume design: Svetlana Breger; Music: Daniel Salomon; Lighting design: Roni Cohen; Cast: Itai Szor – Policeman/Policeman 2; Yoav Hyman – Inspector Bertozzo; Erez Shafrir – The Maniac; Nir Ron – Inspector Pissani; Yossi Eini – The Superintendent; Carmit Mesilati-Kaplan – Feletti.