There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
It’s easy to understand, seeing the Rorschach Theatre’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist, the impulse to adapt Dario Fo’s 1970 play to the era of such Orwellian terminology as “homeland security,” “enemy combatants,” and the Patriot Act. A theater company looking for treatments of another crypto-fascist historical moment could do much worse than the Italian jester’s best-known play, which addresses a notorious 1969 incident, later ruled accidental, wherein a radical fell from a fourth-floor window of a Milan police station. The themes are there—authorities determined to stop terrorists at any cost, the stifling effect of terror threats, and so on—ready for a talented director to extract. But rather than either giving Anarchist a thorough Americanization or letting the audience discern the play’s contemporary import for itself, Grady Weatherford is content with sprinkling Bush-administration jabs—terror alerts progressing from pink to fuchsia to “giraffe,” a reference to Abu Ghraib’s human pyramids, and a company rendition of John Ashcroft’s “Let the Eagle Soar” among them—on Fo’s satire of late-’60s Italy. The result is, generally, a mess. Take a scene toward the middle of Act 1: The Fool (Karl Miller), the play’s central character, poses as a police inspector, warning his superiors that a high-level judge is on his way to visit the investigators: “They’re sending him from Washington,” Miller says. “Wait—I mean, they’re sending him from Rome.” Whether intended or not, the slip illustrates the play’s central problem: If it was intended, it demonstrates just how clunky the venue change is; and if it wasn’t, well, you can’t blame Miller for getting confused. The mishmash of locales, personalities, and conflicts is a shame, mostly, for obscuring a number of fine performances. The cast, to Weatherford’s credit, handles the most difficult part of Fo’s play splendidly—the commedia dell’arte– inspired slapstick sequences. Miller, in particular, handles his part with the verve expected of a compulsive impersonator, a proto-Fletch of sorts who ends up posing as the aforementioned judge to get to the bottom of the anarchist’s defenestration. Daniel Ladmirault and Jason Stiles are both sufficiently dyspeptic as Inspector Bertozzo and his boss, Chief Bellati, though their puzzling accents—New York and Southern, respectively—do nothing to solve the play’s frustrating rootlessness. As dirt-digging reporter Maria Filetti, Marybeth Fritzky looks like Julia Child and talks like Joan Cusack; she keeps Act 2 moving along as swiftly as the script’s cumbersome screeds permit. But it’s Franklin Labovitz’s costumes, more than any other element of the production, that remind the audience of the play’s farcical roots. Miller’s dress, dutifully, is whimsical enough, but it’s the telling details afforded the other characters—the white socks underneath Ladmirault’s cheap suit, Stiles’ and Fritzky’s bourgeois fat suits—that recall Fo’s sharp satirical eye. The playwright’s ability to expose—to paraphrase Hannah Arendt—the absurdity of evil won Fo a Nobel Prize for Literature. Absurdity abounds in our time, for sure, but cheap shots at Sean Hannity’s gait or George W. Bush’s reading of My Pet Goat do not absurdity make.—Mike DeBonis