Richard Hamburger

Law & Disorder: ‘Anarchist’ yields zany slapstick at DTC

By Tom Sime / The Dallas Morning News

While the president focused on the State of the Union on Tuesday night, the Dallas Theater Center addressed the State of Buffoonery, finding it alive and well in Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Italian farceur Dario Fo wrote the play in 1970 and is still making headlines in his native Italy, proving that despite its reputation, the left does have a sense of humor competitive with that of the presumably rib-tickling right.

But this heady, hilarious farce – a co-production with the Pittsburgh Public Theater, where it heads next – is a platform for slapstick more than polemics. The central role, played originally by Mr. Fo himself, goes to Robert Dorfman, who has appeared in several Theater Center productions before, though none prepared us for the comic inspiration seen here.

As the Maniac who invades a Milan police station, Mr. Dorfman doesn’t just carry the show; he juggles it. He’s a talking Harpo, a compact Robin Williams with a bit of John Cleese thrown in when a funny walk is called for. There seems to be a bit of Dallas’ own Laurence O’Dwyer here, too. Whatever the recipe, it’s red-hot and sidesplitting.

The play is based on a sordid real-life incident in which an Italian terrorism suspect “fell” from a window during a police investigation. The suspect had committed suicide, the police said. But their various, conflicting versions of what exactly happened were never resolved.

In Mr. Fo’s comedy, a mental patient played by Mr. Dorfman is in custody, accused of impersonating a surgeon, a psychiatrist and a fighter pilot, among other things. Laws against “abusing the mentally impaired” make him untouchable even by the brutal Commissioner (a wonderfully unctuous Jerry Russell), his boorish Deputy (Craig Bockhorn) and a detective, Inspector Bertozzo (Sean Runnette).

In disguise as various authority figures, including a judge (“No need for formalities – just call me ‘Your Honor’ “), the Maniac gets the better of his captors, and proves their infamy – and in front of a reporter (Mary Bacon), too. He uses that old tactic of pretending to be on their side, helping them concoct alibis, the better to find out what really went on.

Director Richard Hamburger here revisits some of the same themes explored in his The Front Page, but Accidental Death is far funnier and freer, especially as armed with an irreverent new adaptation by Ron Jenkins that brings in plenty of American pop-culture references while not compromising the Italian setting – much.

And Mr. Hamburger lavishes it with design delights, including sublimely ugly ‘70s clothes by Linda Cho. It’s all aimed at a goal even the president couldn’t upstage: “the liberating belch of democracy.”

© Richard Hamburger, Theater Director      Site design and maintenance by Amy Lacy.