Luckily, the Kraine Theater still makes its stage affordable for independent productions, and they do this by scheduling several back-to-back shows per night. So when the cast of Accidental Death of An Anarchist conspicuously struck the set at the end of their opening night performance, it wasn’t for the sake of metatheater or smash-the-state commentary (though the play otherwise includes plenty of both). They needed to clear the stage for the next production, scheduled to start in half an hour.
The demands of the space keep the set minimal. An old desk, a typewriter stand, some boxes and a large wooden window furnish the office of the Milan police headquarters where an anarchist bombing suspect fell “accidentally” to his death during an interrogation. Inspector Bertozzo (Daniel Doohan), along with a klutzy constable (Matthew Wanders), fumble through competing accounts of the defenestration. Enter a compulsive impersonator known only as The Maniac (Megan O’Leary). Armed with a bottomless bag of tricks, wigs, clever guises and prosthetic body parts s/he unleashes an avalanche of confusion on the bumbling bureaucrats, eventually causing them to confess to the cover-up.
Although Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo’s script is based on real-life events that occurred in the repressive political climate of 1969 Italy, the piece is anything but realist. It is, rather, a Brechtian reworking of commedia dell’arte conventions, served with a side of Pinteresque menace. Acerbic humor frames a politically charged message about the dangers of a police state mediated by a scandal-mongering press. A message likely to have resonated just as strongly without the extraneous monologue tacked on to the play’s climax, cataloging the obvious parallels. While it aims at a heartfelt revelation of injustice, it comes across heavy-handed and says nothing new. At least not to the average East Village theatergoer.
Nevertheless, the meticulously executed moments of physical farce are well worth the asking price of the ticket. O’Leary’s consummate skill and spot-on physicality shine through each impersonation. She is a pleasure to watch, particularly alongside Del Lewis’s gruff Superintendent and the dead-pan news-speak persona that Gretchen Knapp adopts for Feletti, the journalist assigned to investigate the story. The actors don’t falter at any point throughout a fast-paced performance that will have you consistently engaged — the hour and a half seems to fly by in 15 minutes.