Last week, Hackensack’s police union president was charged with aggravated assault and falsifying records for allegedly striking a man during questioning. All summer, Britain’s Scotland Yard has been plagued by allegations that it failed to mount a proper investigation of the Murdoch phone-hacking scandal and that top officials took illegal payments from News of the World. In Italy, a close adviser to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi faces a worsening tax scandal even as the government tries to head off financial disaster.
Stories like those make the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s new production of the Dario Fo farce Accidental Death of an Anarchist seem particularly well timed. But when isn’t the Italian Nobel laureate’s 1960 dissection of police brutality and government cover-ups in fashion?
Based on the actual case of an Italian bombing suspect who allegedly “fell” to his death while under interrogation, the play weaves investigative journalism with broad physical comedy. Imagine a Saturday Night Live sketch based on the Amadou Diallo shooting, and you’ll get an idea of the play’s high-low ambitions.
The opening night audience ate up Kevin Isola’s manic performance as the Maniac, the certifiably insane jester who prods a bumbling police force into admitting its culpability in the suspect’s “suicide.” A strong ensemble cast keeps the energy high and the laughs coming, although Fo’s canny script keeps reminding you that the stakes are deadly serious. And it ends on a darkly cynical note, as the Maniac suggests that exposing scandal is a mere ritual of Western democracy, an “antidote” to real political consciousness.
The play continues through Aug. 28 at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre on the Drew University campus in Madison (www.shakespearenj.org).