Review: Accidental Death of an Anarchist (Soulpepper)

Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Soulpepper

Soulpepper updates Dario Fo’s play Accidental Death of an Anarchist, setting it in present-day Toronto

You’re forgiven if you neglect to mention “accidental” when tweeting or talking about Accidental Death of an Anarchist, because death is death, correct?

Dead wrong.

Although surely there are parallels, this ain’t no Death of a Salesman American Dream. Accidental Death of an Anarchist is about the real-world politics of the why and who of a suspect found dead on the street underneath the fourth-floor window of a downtown police station.

The play goes back in time to reconstruct the interrogation. But unlike the serious journalism of the current podcast-hit Serial, Accidental Death of an Anarchist uses comedy to get us thinking.

The original play was written by Nobel-prize winner Dario Fo, set in Milan, and based on the tragic, real-life headlines of bombings in Italy in 1969.

Soulpepper Theatre Company has lifted the cop-comedy into a present-day Canadian, more precisely Toronto, setting. The set is filled with a towering mountain of filing cabinets, has a view of the CN Tower, and a huge poster of an icy-eyed Stephen Harper.

What’s really on point are the current-day, related news references. Your brain will be spinning. There’s the G20 summit events and the Sammy Yatim streetcar death. There’s Jian Gomeshi in outright references and subtle on-stage gropes, and clips such as Chief, are you smoking crack? to name a few.

But to be clear, while what’s referenced is tragic if not pathetic, Accidental Death of an Anarchist will keep you laughing, which is precisely the point. Fo called this “throwaway theatre… a vast mechanism to make people laugh about dramatic events.”

In fact, you may not even be able to keep yourself from singing. Which is what the entire Opening Night audience did at the end of Act One. “That’s a surefire sign of engagement,” said the theatregoer next to me. I thought it was perhaps a way to take a break from the non-stop, pop-pop of harshness.

This production’s tour-de-force is undoubtedly Kawa Ada, who plays the lead character, the Madman, heading up the investigation. (It’ll be interesting to see how his Madman compares with the other are-you-crazy-if-you-know-you’re-crazy-madmen in The Physicists, running in Stratford this summer).

Ada impersonates whomever he wants to move the story along. Now he’s a certified madman, now he’s a judge, now he’s limping along with a wooden leg. It worked so well that at one point I thought, on a dull day when things get crazy at work, why don’t I just pretend I’m Queen Elizabeth?

That said, when Ada’s character suddenly drops out of character and comes over to the audience’s side to polemicize, I was a bit pissed. I don’t like playwrights messing with me like that. For god’s sake, I was just laughing, now I’m being reminded that this is not just theatre, this is serious stuff.

Which is precisely the point. Accidental Death of an Anarchist is a “grotesque farce about a tragic farce.” Nothing is accidental.

Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

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