The show: "Accidental Death of an Anarchist" at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven
What makes it special?: The latest production by the folks who did the ridiculously good "The Servant of Two Masters" and "A Doctor in Spite of Himself" at the Rep.
First impressions: On the page, this Dario Fo political farce reads corny, dated and obvious. Out of its original Italian context and with translations and adaptations that miss the funny, it has done in many a production — including a 1984 Broadway version Jonathan Pryce, Joe Grifasi, Gerry Bamman and Patti Lupone.
But in the right hands — with seasoned artists who know how to shape Italian commedia dell'arte for contemporary times — the work is wild, hysterical and pointed. The Marx Brothers would definitely approve — and so would that radical chucklehead Karl.
What's it about?: It is 1970 Milan and a suspected anarchist of a local bombing has died after falling out the police station's fourth-floor window. But did he jump, was it an accident, or was he pushed by his interrogators? An investigation is undertaken — but a histrionic maniac with as gift of impersonation disguises himself as the official sleuth sent to cut through bureaucracy, police corruption and political malfeasance with dazzling energy, cleverness and an anarchial spirit of his own. As he says at one point, "I'm a freaking insanity genius," and few would disagree.
So was he pushed?: The answer is obvious and so is the one-note storyline in this adaptation by Gavin Richards from a translation by Gillian Hanna. But what elevates the proceedings is the non-stop, fourth-wall-breaking comic inventiveness by director Christopher Bayes and his terrific troupe of crazies, led by inexhaustible, limber-limbed and playfully naughty Steve Epp who can find a laugh in any line. (Love the Paul Giammati and "The Sound of Music Live" references.)
But the idiot savant also can let loose with truths of his own with an off-script meltdown riff of his own: "The Bush-Cheney Weapons of Mass Destruction Desert [expletive] Storm of Lies and Deception: It's the perfect example of manipulating fear for political and economic gain. And ten years on, tens of thousands of lives have been lost, tens of billions of military contracts have been paid out, and deficits have been driven into the trillions, and the scoundrels who got us into it in the first place have skipped town with million dollar book deals, and their pockets stuffed with cash, our cash, all of us, screwed like a pig at a redneck pig-[expletive] rodeo …and I haven't even gotten started on the drone strikes, the fracking, or why I can't download health insurance, but the NSA can watch my Netflix for free."
The others in the superlative cast are the hot-blooded Jesse J. Perez, Eugene Ma (who looks like he stepped out of a Fellini film), easy-going idiot Allen Gilmore and Liam Craig, a master of exasperation. Joining in the gang as if she were a veteran with the troupe is recent Yale School of Drama grad Molly Bernard as an outrageous journalist (think Oriana Fallaci with za-zing).
Also propelling the wild comic spirit are two one-stage musicians (well, one is kind of out of sight from where I was sitting): music director and composer Aaron Halva and composer and sound designer Nathan A. Roberts.
There's music too?: And dancing. The show starts with a silly, apropos-of-nothing jig that sets the cuckoo-land spirit of the production. (Even the ushers help get the audience's mood up.)
Production points, too. Behind a crumbling proscenium, YSD third-year student Kate Noll's creates a wonderfully artificial world where the absurdity can flourish. Making everyone look sharp, silly or fabulously ridiculous is costumer Elivia Bovenzi, also a third year YSD student.
Who will like it?: Fans of absurdist comedy. Italians. Vaudevillians. Jon Stewart.
Who won't?: Police. Politicians. One per-centers.
For the kids?: Hip kids will love the lunacy.
Of note: The show is a co-production that will play at Berkeley (Calif.) Repertory Theatre March 7 to April 20.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: Radically funny
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot?: After three terrific productions in four years, Bayes, Epp and this troupe have now become a Connecticut comic tradition. The brilliant Theatre de a Jeune Lune may be gone but its wondrous spirit lives on with these artists.
The basics: The show plays at the Rep at 1120 Chapel St., New Haven, through Dec. 21. Running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes, including one intermission. Tickets are $20 to $98. Information at 203-432-1234 and www.yalerep.org.
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