Theater Review: ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST (The Actors’ Gang in Los Angeles)

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by Tony Frankel on March 19, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles


Anarchy is not chaos. The former means “without law” and the latter means “without form.” This is an important distinction to consider in a play that intends to make an argument for anarchy. After a government scandal, a schizoid anarchist poses as certain government officials at a police station in order to disrupt the government from the inside, and then calls the audience to action to continue his work. But The Actor Gangs’ Accidental Death of an Anarchist doesn’t seem to understand this distinction, leaving the audience to watch two and a half hours of unbridled entropy.

From the outset, the script is a liability. Jon Laskin and Michael Aquilante’s translation does not attempt to correct the structural flaws of Darian Fo’s original, Italian script (1970), which is already about an hour too long (the prolific Fo won the 1997 Nobel Prize in Literature). A few of Fo’s plays were based on improvisation, but most of them, including Anarchist, use commedia dell’arte as a comedic base (an Actors’ Gang trademark). But in order for farce to work, the production must be tightly paced, zany, and grounded in reality. Sadly, the performers are neither world-class farceurs nor amazing actors in the vein of Roger Bart, Rowan Atkinson, or Leslie Nielsen (and the two women lack distinction). They’re one-note, mistaking screaming for humor because Director Will Thomas McFadden doesn’t rein his cast into the tightly knit ensemble needed to pull off an already messy play. Certainly some bits worked: When The Anarchist repeatedly created chalkboard drawings to elucidate facts and figures, it always looked like a cock cumming — hysteria ensued.

The more an audience empathizes with you, the greater the laugh. Clearly, laughs are a mysterious business (what is funny vs. what is not), but for farce to work here, The Maniac (our Anarchist) can get tangled up trying to have a phone call, but the news he receives must be the most important thing in the world – and I just didn’t get that. A mighty hard-working and sometimes delightful Bob Turton is clearly trained in farce, but he lacked context, which means he presented himself talking directly to us with the fervor of a stand-up monologist with attitude on cocaine. Since we don’t buy the goings on as real, the farce feels forced. All in all, we’re left with mostly shaky timing, community-theater mugging, and anti-bureaucratic proselytizing that is so consistently fast-paced and loud that the normal response for some is to shut down. The laughter was certainly stifled for a sold-out house.

Anarchist is just as inchoate and problematic in its messaging as Occupy Wall Street; the only real, discernible theme is the hackneyed “government is bad.” And, frankly, when a protagonist engages in more deception and violence than the government itself, I can’t help but wonder if the play doesn’t completely undercut the only point it manages to reinforce. Does Fo really mean to suggest that this type of amoral, guerrilla-bombing vigilantism is better than a corrupt bureaucracy?

The show may, at times, possess a certain amateurish, “fuck the establishment” charm, but it quickly becomes clear that this is all the play has up its sleeve. It serves not so much as a rousing call to action for anarchy, but rather a cautionary tale that a little order goes a long way.

photos by Ashley Randall
poster art by Ralph Steadman

Accidental Death of an Anarchist
The Actors’ Gang at The Ivy Substation
9070 Venice Blvd. in Culver City
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun (Feb. 17, 24 & March 3) at 2
ends on to March 9, 2018
for tickets, call 310.838.4264 or visit Actors’ Gang

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