Theater / Performance

Accidental Death of an Anarchist (Curio Theater, 07Dec11)

Due to a work-related trip, Tara was unable to join me for this artistic outing.  I, Clay, therefore attended this event on my own, and the following comments are all of my own devising.  Apologies for the one-sidedness of this review.

What they say it is: (from the Curio Theater website):

Trust us: you don’t have to know anything about the true events that inspired Dario Fo to write Accidental Death of an Anarchist in order to enjoy the madcap antics of the Milan police department, because none of the characters seem to know anything either. This slapstick comedy revolves around the trials and tribulations of various conniving (though dimwitted) police officers that attempt to cover up a suspicious death while being questioned by a hyperactive maniac and a cutthroat reporter. Will the truth be revealed? Well you’re just going to have to come and find out!

CLAY SAYS....We’ve attended several of Curio Theater Company’s productions in the past couple years, and overall, I continue to be impressed with the high degree of effort and excellence this smallish troupe is able to bring to their performances.  As mentioned in our less-than-enthusiastic review of Eurydice, this theater group does a generally good job in terms of casting, acting, set design and use of their unique space (a somewhat dilapidated old church in West Philadelphia), but can be a bit of a hit-or-miss experience with the specific narrative content of their shows.  In this case, I’m pleased to say that Accidental Death of an Anarchist was a smash success on all levels, ranking as my favorite Curio piece so far.

Curio Theater's home at 47th and Baltimore

Calvary Methodist Church, home of Curio Theater Company

Perhaps I’m just a sucker for comedy, or maybe my attention span is better suited to the fast pace of a show like this one, but ADoaA was a legitimately LOL experience.  I came into the show knowing nothing of the plot, but it took only a couple lines of dialog for me to realize that Anarchist is classic madcap humor, the sort of play where characters are led down avenues of irreverent illogical reasoning that crescendo toward a brash symphony of lunatic behavior.  Though the piece’s title might have led me to believe I’d be witnessing some sort of West Philadelphia-style political treatise, I was actually in for a goofy two hours of nonsensical good fun.

The setting and storyline are intentionally screwball.  Though the set’s background is scrawled with several Italian words, and many characters seem to inhabit a foreign-flavored Marx-brothers nuttiness, the plot often veers into contemporary American references (i.e. the debt crisis, the upcoming presidential election).  The dislocation can be occasionally confusing, but as the play progresses into the second act, the plot comfortably embraces the silliness in a head-on, mostly workable fashion, and the narrative conclusion (no spoilers) is a slick postmodern deconstruction of that 4th wall that typically separates audience and actors. Since I tend to like this sort of thing (think the multiple endings of the movie Clue), I was the ideal audience for the sort of piece on display.

Convention is out the window in the world of the Anarchist (photo from Curio Theater website).

The actors (5 in total) are notably successful in their roles; humor can be a difficult thing to nail, yet this small cast of 20-to-30-somethings inhabit their various clownish character types with intelligence and class.  The lead actor–onstage throughout the entire two-hour performance–is memorably animated and genuinely hilarious, changing accents and costumes at the drop of a hat.  The play lives or dies on his performance–clearly a risky move for a small theater company– but Curio has found a young actor with the chops of a serious comic showman who easily carries the entire show.  Meanwhile, the supporting actors are perfectly suited to their roles, lending vital straight-men contrast to the lead’s more showboaty performance, while still being extremely funny in their own spotlight moments.  The single female character (a feisty investigative reporter) is sexy and memorable in the closing scenes of the play, helping to turn the storyline away from mere comic fluff toward an intellectual resolution.  Don’t panic–this isn’t Kafka or Beckett–but the story does manage to challenge the audience in the final moments, leaving one wondering if there might have been a larger point to the story all along.

I regret that Tara wasn’t able to see this particular piece, as her insight often helps me to make more sense out of the art I already enjoy.  In any case, it looks like Curio is hitting their stride with this second show of their 6th season, and I look forward with great anticipation to the next show this year’s series.

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