By Amy J. Barry Special to Living
Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist at Yale Rep opens with the ensemble breaking out into song and dance in Italian, followed by a body falling past the window of the Milan police station, where all the action takes place.
The rest of the two-hour production is centered on the sole question: did the mystery man fall or was he pushed?
The scathingly left-wing political satire is based on a terrorist attack in which a bomb exploded in a bank in Milan in 1969, taking 17 lives. An anarchist picked up for questioning was seen falling from a fourth-floor window of the police station three days later, and after 36 years of bungled investigations and trials, no one was convicted of the bombing and it was never determined how the anarchist died.
Shortly after the incident, in 1970, Fo wrote the play, as stated in the program, "as a 'window' into the absurdity; a way to grapple with the outrage and despair that people were feeling."
Steven Epp plays the anarchist picked up for questioning. The twist is he is a maniac and master impersonator who has spent time in more than a dozen insane asylums as he proudly proclaims. He disguises himself as the official investigator and later a judge, trying to get to the truth through the bureaucratic nightmare. He manipulates everyone in the police station, from the wildly frustrated inspector Bertozzo (Jesse J. Perez) and his wimpy assistant (Eugene Ma) to the big guns, the Superintendent (Liam Craig) and Pisanni, his associate (Allen Gilmore).
The only level-headed character is the only female character, Feletti (Molly Bernard), a journalist in a hot pink mini dress who arrives in the middle of the second act and takes over the corrupt investigation, trying to make some sort of sense out of what really happened.
The adaptation by Gavin Richards, directed by Christopher Bayes, is loaded with current political and economic references that Epp plays to the hilt, finding an absurdly funny improv rant in every line of the script. But it all gets to be a bit too heavy-handed-there are no breaks from the two full hours of frenzied, non-stop silliness to catch one's breath-there is no down time to reflect on the play's message or really discern what it is-especially if you hadn't already read up on its background.
Bayes also directed, and Epp also starred, in Yale Rep's terrific commedia dell'arte productions of The Servant of Two Masters and A Doctor in Spite of Himself. But this production is minus the more magical qualities of the other plays-except at the very end.
The same technique is used to punctuate the gag lines and musical numbers. Aaron Halva and Nathan A. Roberts-both composers-are delightful performing 10 instruments between them on stage, including a toy piano. But everything is faster and shorter and isn't as well integrated into the action as the music and sound effects in The Servant and A Doctor.
But if you're in need of a high-octane energy boost, some uproarious laughter, and the opportunity to bash inept government and make fun of ultra-conservatives, you won't be disappointed.
Accidental Death of an Anarchist runs through Saturday, Dec. 21 at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel Street, New Haven. For tickets and more information, call 203-432-1234 or visit www.yalerep.org.