Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Accidental Death of an Anarchist

By Dario Fo
Adapted by Gavin Richards from a translation by Gillian Hanna
Directed by Christopher Bayes
A co-production with Yale Repertory Theatre
Main Season · Roda Theatre
March 7–April 20, 2014

Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission

A bank gets bombed, a suspect dies in custody, and the police inquiry turns into…a masterpiece of comedy? Steven Epp returns to Berkeley Rep for a criminally funny production of Accidental Death of an Anarchist. He delighted audiences as Figaro and The Miser—now he’s back in another madcap show directed by Christopher Bayes. Nobel Prize-winner Dario Fo penned more than 70 incisive scripts, and this is by far his most famous. With Epp’s outrageous Anarchist, Berkeley Rep hauls you down to the station for a hilarious interrogation of our culture.

Creative team

Dario Fo · Playwright
Christopher Bayes · Director
Aaron Halva · Music Director / Composer
Nathan A. Roberts · Composer / Sound Design
Kate Noll · Scenic Design
Elivia Bovenzi · Costume Design
Oliver Wason · Lighting Design
Charles Coes · Sound Design
Michael F. Bergmann · Projection Design
Walton Wilson · Vocal Coach
Samantha Lazar · Production Dramaturg
Tara Rubin · Casting Director
Kimberly Mark Webb · Stage Manager
Jack Tamburri · Assistant Director
Steven Klems · Projection Programmer

Cast

Liam Craig · Superintendent
Steven Epp · Maniac
Renata Friedman · Feletti
Allen Gilmore · Pissani
Eugene Ma · Constables
Jesse J. Perez · Bertozzo
Aaron Halva · Musician
Travis Hendrix · Musician

“Breathtakingly funny…Steven Epp doesn’t tell jokes. He embodies one comic morsel after another or several on top of each other so thickly that your brain can’t possibly keep up because you’re laughing too hard. And he’s far from alone in the hilarious ensemble of the Accidental Death of an Anarchist that opened Wednesday at Berkeley Repertory Theatre…It’s a feast of foolishness…farce as a potent political act.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“The shtick hits the fan with a vengeance…Was it a suicide, an accident or a case of police brutality? The Nobel-winning Fo riffed on the incident in this laser-sharp satire on the death of civil rights, the rise of the rampant corruption and the need to overthrow the status quo…Lest we think that issues of the abuse of power and the distraction of the masses are more relevant to the past than the present, Bayes and Epp jam the revival full of timely references…its political fire is undeniable!”—San Jose Mercury News / Bay Area News Group

“The laughs come at regular intervals in Accidental Death of an Anarchist. So do the sight gags, physical shtick, political jabs and topical references in the new Berkeley Repertory Theatre production of this sharp and very funny political farce by Nobel Prize-winning playwright Dario Fo…A brilliantly calibrated staging…Act 2 hits a high note of hilarity!”—San Francisco Examiner

“Spectacularly hilarious…There’s no arguing about the cast’s genius at extracting laughs from bleak encounters. Its six members pull out all the stops of physical comedy: mugging, pratfalling, colliding, tripping over each other, singing, dancing and flaunting the flexibility of acrobats while propelling the story with breakneck abandon…A laugh riot!”—Huffington Post

“Extremely funny and incisive…As breezy, uproarious, and meaningful as a political satire can be!”—SFist

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Prologue: from the Artistic Director

I first met Dario Fo some 30 years ago. I picked him up at the airport, and he immediately asked if I could take him and his party (he never went anywhere without a large, rambunctious entourage) to a restaurant. Any restaurant. We went to a Chinese place in the Mission where the group proceeded to consume mountains of food while shouting to/at each other in Italian. People started to stare. Taking this as a personal challenge, Dario stood up and took stock of the room. To my shock and amazement, he began moving from table to table, introducing himself in Italian and then launching into a series of animal impressions. Donkeys, giraffes, dogs…by the time he got to the baboons everyone in the place was howling. He took phone numbers, told people about his show, and left to a standing ovation. It was one of the greatest, spontaneous performances I have ever seen.

Fo’s plays (50 and counting!) bear that same distinction: you can read them all you want, but they only come alive in performance. They are built around his persona as a professional Fool, a court jester whose job is to expose the hypocrisy of the state and to satirize all forms of corruption. The Fool speaks the truth when no other person dares to: he creates jokes that are based in reality and relentlessly ridicules those who have lied, cheated, or killed to attain power. In that sense, the Fool is a teacher, and the conspiratorial laughter he creates with the audience is both relieving and alarming. Fo’s entire career has been dedicated to the creation of subversive laughter. He has famously taken on politicians, the police, and, his personal favorite, the pope. For his efforts he’s been vilified and adored, condemned as an outlaw and celebrated as champion of the people. At one point the State Department labeled him as a dangerous criminal, and for many years he was barred from entering the United States.

Just before I met him, the ban was lifted and Fo was allowed to perform at theatres across the United States and at any restaurant he frequented. Accidental Death of an Anarchist, written in 1970, was first produced in America in the mid-‘80s and has been performed the world over. This revival brings Steve Epp back to Berkeley, himself a Fool of the first order. He teams up again with expert director Christopher Bayes, who has spent a lifetime studying commedia dell’arte and observing the political machinations of our world. Together they reprise the story of a disastrous police investigation, one that seems all too common today. They’ve armed the Fool (called “maniac” in this play) with an updated political rant, just to make sure we’re all in on the fun. Fresh from Yale Rep where the play enjoyed a great run, we welcome them back to Berkeley, along with the great Dario Fo.

Sincerely,

Tony Taccone

Prologue: from the Managing Director

When you walked into the lobby today, you may have noticed posters for a play that hasn’t received much attention to this point. Yes, Berkeley Rep is very pleased to host the 10th-anniversary production of Brian Copeland’s Not a Genuine Black Man in April. If we’ve piqued your interest about this show, you may then have been struck by its location at the Osher Studio. What and where, you may ask, is that? Well, if you’ve never seen Brian Copeland, a terrific Bay Area artist, and if you’ve yet to see the Osher, then it’s probably time for you to see both!

Our Osher Studio may be the most significant new performance space in downtown Berkeley. Back in 2003, Berkeley Rep’s rehearsal halls and offices were in a rather seedy building a block south of the Roda Theatre on Center Street. When that building was slated for demolition to make way for apartments, Berkeley Rep was able to secure a 20-year lease—thanks to the City of Berkeley’s cultural facility height bonus—in the new building. Berkeley Central opened last year with much-needed housing, an art gallery curated by our colleagues at Kala Art Institute, and three new halls on the first floor. Two of those halls became classrooms for the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre, allowing us to offer our programs to even more adults and children. These rooms are also used by other community arts organizations, including dance, music, and theatre companies.

The Osher Studio is the third space at Berkeley Central. Intimate and informal, this black box theatre is perfect for small arts organizations who can’t otherwise afford to lease, equip, or maintain a downtown facility. Already the Osher Studio has hosted performances by the Bay Area Children’s Theatre, Ragged Wing Ensemble, Danse Lumière, Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, and now Brian Copeland.

One of the best things about Berkeley Central is its Arts Passage, a covered walkway that connects Addison Street to Center Street. Located just across the street from our box office, the Arts Passage will be open before and after all of Berkeley Rep’s performances, making it easier and quicker for you to walk between the Theatre and the parking lot on Center Street.

Our new spaces at Berkeley Central are an added boost to the already burgeoning arts scene in downtown Berkeley. We’re excited to offer a downtown performance venue to the many small arts organizations in the East Bay and to expand our own school programming—with an easily accessible Arts Passage to boot. Best of all, our new Osher Studio allows us to present Brian Copeland’s seminal solo show Not a Genuine Black Man to new audiences. We hope to see you there starting April 23.

Warmly,

Susan Medak

Dario Fo: An open revolutionary

By Sam Basger

In the early 1950s, as the country stirred from its fascism-induced coma into a thriving republic, a young revolutionary burst onto the stages of Northern Italy with scathing satire. This was Dario Fo, on the cusp of a prolific career and lifelong partnership with a sophisticated Milanese actress, Franca Rame, who trod the same boards.

Fo was born to a working-class family in 1926 in San Giano (or Sangiano), a small town on the shores of Lake Maggiore in the region of Lombardia. Fo’s father was a railway stationmaster, while his mother is often described as a “peasant” who was from a tradition of oral storytelling. Indeed it was his mother’s father, known affectionately to the community as Bristin (which loosely translates to “pepper seed”), who ushered Fo into the enchanting world of the fabulatori, local people such as fishermen, glassblowers, or vendors who would peddle their sometimes grotesque, often political, and usually paradoxical tales in public squares. Bristin would attract customers to his cart with his wit and wonder, selling his wares with an air of showmanship that would prove instrumental in building the foundations of narrative rhythm for Fo, whose first performances were versions of stories he had heard from the fabulatori.

As for any child growing up in Europe at that period of time, Fo’s adolescence was dominated by the outbreak of the Second World War. His studies in architecture at the Brera Academy in Milan were interrupted when Fo was called up for military duty in service to the army of the Salò Republic, a puppet state for Nazi Germany loosely controlled by Mussolini. Deserting a cause he never believed in, Fo spent the last few months of the war in hiding while also assisting his parents in the Resistance movement, tending to wounded partisans and helping Allied prisoners and Jewish refugees escape across the nearby border of Switzerland.

Returning to the Academy after the war, Fo found he had a diminished passion for architecture, and grew intoxicated by the intellectual discourse, creative endeavors, and political activism in the newly liberated Milan. He started reading Karl Marx and Antonio Gramsci (whose key arguments included the importance of intellectuals in creating a counter-current of thought which would eventually overcome the ideological dominance of the ruling class), in addition to playwrights Bertolt Brecht and Federico García Lorca. He also began associating with Communist Party members, painters, writers, and actors. Before long, Fo drifted into theatre, applying his storytelling heritage and his aptitude for improvisation to act in various sketches and revue shows in the late 1940s. Under the influence of French farce, neo-realist cinema, and the work of dramatist Eduardo de Filippo, he began to shape his own aesthetic as an artist. Soon he retired his architectural ambitions altogether, withdrawing from his degree only a few exams shy of graduation.

Fo’s big break came in 1950, when he presented some of his adapted stories to renowned actor Franco Parenti, including a comedic interpretation of the parable of Cain and Abel. Impressed by Fo’s gifts, Parenti enthusiastically welcomed him into his company. By the early 1950s, Fo’s series of comic performances collectively titled Poer Nano (translating to either “poor lad,” “poor wretch,” or “poor little thing”) was playing on larger stages, as well as being broadcast on the state radio channel. Parenti’s variety show is where Fo first laid eyes on Franca Rame, his future wife. Her photo in a company program struck him deeply, and when he saw her in three-dimensional form it only confirmed his suspicions: love at first sight. Not knowing how to approach her, he instead decided to ignore her in total, until she lost interest with that game and one day pinned him against a wall and kissed him. The pair married in 1954 and had their only child, Jacopo, one year later.

Fo and Rame decided to move to Rome where they pursued work in cinema, with Fo penning scripts and the two acting alongside each other in front of the camera. Their time working in film, however, was met with limited success and questionable fulfillment, and they soon found themselves headed back to Milan to establish their own theatre company, Compagnia Fo-Rame. Rame herself was from a well-regarded theatrical family, and Fo found inspiration from some of their old material which required participation from the public, stating in the stage directions that the audience “had to” laugh or applaud at certain moments. An active audience was important to Fo, and the farces were a prime way for him to entertain them while also conveying his own political agendas in a nondidactic form. From 1958, the company wrote and produced comedies, such as Comica finale, taking their performances on extended tours around the country. This decade became known as Fo’s “bourgeois period” where, despite a little social prodding, his work was popular and even considered safe.

A marked change came for Fo in 1967 when his play, La signora è da buttare (Throw the Lady Away), an attack on the American involvement in Vietnam, raised public ire and was met with heckles and even police involvement. Fo was threatened with arrest for some of the jokes deemed offensive to Lyndon Johnson, a foreign head of state. This may have been the catalyst for the dissolution of their company Compagnia Fo-Rame and the formation of Nuova Scena, or New Scene. With the socialist debates and student revolts of 1968, the political climate in Italy was significantly different. Fo and Rame were ready to break away from what was popular and bourgeois, including their own company, despite the fact that by this time, Fo was indisputably Italy’s most prominent playwright. It was this “revolutionary period” that yielded the most well-known works of Fo’s career, including Legami pure che tanto io spacco tutto lo stesso (Tie Me Up But I’ll Still Smash Everything) which condemned the Italian Communist Party for its compromises with capitalism, Mistero buffo (Comic Mystery) which mocked the church, Morte accidentale di un anarchico (Accidental Death of an Anarchist), and Non si paga! Non si paga! (Can’t Pay! Won’t Pay!), a critique on the exploitation of the proletariat.

This new rebellious direction was met with forcible censorship, violence, and it even prevented Fo from entering the United States for an Italian theatre festival in 1980, when he was denied visas by the Reagan administration on the grounds of his “subversive” nature. Though, as scholars Farrell and Scuderi point out, “there was nothing subversive, or at least nothing covert, about Fo’s aims. He was as openly revolutionary as any man could be.”

Despite adversity, the work of Fo (and Rame) has retained an undeniable relevance and lasting impact, which was truly acknowledged with his receipt of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997. When accepting his award, about a quarter of his speech consisted of him recounting a story that he heard from a fabulatore when he was a child in San Giano. Coming full circle to honor his roots, Fo never betrayed his humble origins by becoming the cliché of the populist, pretentious artist; he never sold his soul. Today, his work continues to demonstrate that a revolution can be more than just a destructive uprising. It can be open, it can be intellectual, and it can be fun.

Accidental death of an actual anarchist

By Julie McCormick

Dario Fo’s beloved farce satirizes a miscarriage of justice so outrageous that all one can do is laugh. What makes it all the more extraordinary is that it is based on true events.

On December 12, 1969, a bomb exploded at the Piazza Fontana in Milan, in the headquarters of the National Agricultural Bank. It was a devastating terrorist event that killed 16 people and may have injured more than 100. Two more bombs went off simultaneously in Rome, and other undetonated explosives were found elsewhere in Milan. The Prime Minister of Italy at the time, Mariano Rumor, said that the explosions were “an act of barbarism which has no precedent in the history of the country,” and gave the investigators the permission “act with the maximum severity against those who want to poison the peace of the Italian people.” The police took his words to heart and immediately began detaining suspects from local anarchist groups. The BBC estimates that the Italian authorities ultimately made over 4,000 arrests in conjunction with the attack.

One of these suspects was Giuseppe Pinelli, whose story informs the plot of Fo’s play. A railroad worker and an active member in his local anarchist chapter, Pinelli was arrested soon after the bombing and interrogated for three days without seeing a judge. At the end of the third day, he fell to his death from a fourth-floor window at police headquarters. Though the three police officers interrogating Pinelli were placed under investigation, his death was ultimately determined to be of “accidental” causes.

This is only one instance of the many questionable circumstances surrounding the Piazza Fontana bombing. The trials and investigations continued for decades, and the twists and turns of justice along the way are worthy of their own play, too. Anarchist Pietro Valpreda was held for three years in preventative detention before finally being sentenced. It was only after 16 years of appeals and several mistrials that his name was cleared.

Originally, the investigations focused solely on Milanese anarchist groups, but in the 1970s, three fascists working for the Italian secret police were tried in absentia, found to be guilty, and sentenced to life in prison. All three were later acquitted in the late 1980s. In 1998, evidence of foreign involvement emerged: a U.S. Navy officer, an Italian CIA coordinator, and an officer in the U.S.-NATO intelligence network were all implicated in the Piazza Fontana bombing, but none of them were ultimately sentenced. In 2001, members of the Italian right-wing political group Ordine Nuovo were convicted of the bombing, but those convictions were later overturned in 2004. As of the last trial in 2005, no one had actually been found guilty of the bombing.

The attacks and surrounding scandal were unfortunately not isolated incidents of political unrest and government corruption. The decade following the Piazza Fontana bombing (roughly 1969 to 1979) has come to be known as the Anni di piombo, or the “Years of Lead.” Some suggest this name comes from the sheer volume of bullets that were fired during this time. There were constant confrontations between the various political factions in the country, instigated by decades of unrest within Italy boiling to the surface.

During the postwar years, a boom in factory production drew families from the agricultural south up to the more cosmopolitan and industrialized north in droves. Cities were unready for this massive migration, and overcrowded slums sprung up around urban areas overnight. At the same time, the Communist Party gained more power in the central government and pushed for labor reform and more worker benefits. These population shifts combined with union-associated costs in the 1960s to create virulent inflation.

The economic downturn came to a head in the “hot autumn” of 1969, when workers and students went on strike and occupied factories and classrooms, and mass demonstrations swept throughout Northern Italy. But the protests were not just about better wages and working conditions—they were also about challenging the conservative status quo. The church lost some of its cultural and political power as the general population secularized. Regular church attendance fell in the latter part of the 20th century, from about 70 percent in the mid-1950s to about 30 percent in the 1980s. Old-fashioned ideas about traditional family structures loosened as women gained more social rights, education, and power in the workforce. (Women in Italy did not have the right to vote until 1960, and the first divorce law was not passed until 1970.)

During the Years of Lead, neo-Fascist and right-wing groups sought to take power from the left and undermine the Communist Party’s recent labor advances. Derailed trains and terrorist bombs like the one at Piazza Fontana were blamed on the left, but many were actually perpetrated by the right, often in cahoots with the government. Atrocities were committed by all sides, however; one of the most notable was the kidnapping and assassination of the Christian Democrat Prime Minister Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades in 1978. Though this “strategy of tension” was motivated by domestic angling for power, there is evidence of international (read, American) interference in a Cold War effort to wrest power away from communists.

Rather than bombs or bullets, theatre artists like Dario Fo used their art to call attention to the hypocrisies of those in power. He says about Accidental Death’s first appearance just a few years after the Piazza Fontana bombing:

[The audience] split their sides laughing at the effects produced by the comical and at the same time satirical situations. But as the performance went on, they gradually came to see that they were laughing the whole time at real events, events which were criminal and obscene in their brutality: crimes of the state.

So the grins froze on their faces and in most cases turned into a kind of grand guignol scream which had nothing liberating about it, nothing to make things palatable—on the contrary, it made them impossible to swallow.

This style of provocative theatrical satire is not a relic of the 1970s—it remains a sharp political tool even today. As Fo observes, something about the form seems uniquely suited to Italy: “because of a particular historical and cultural process, the taste for satire touches a very deeply rooted feeling in the Italian public…The taste for satire was not suppressed even by fascism—in fact it developed.”

And despite advantages in media technology, theatre remains a preferred platform for political critique. Italian media is highly regulated by the government. The major television network, RAI, is state-run, and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi also founded Mediaset, one of Europe’s largest TV companies. Berlusconi, a billionaire media mogul who is also the head of the right-wing political party Forza Italia, has been accused of everything from tax evasion to bribery and solicitation of underage prostitutes. When comedians or satirists called attention to charges of corruption or outright criminality in Berlusconi’s administration, their programs were yanked from the airwaves. In November of 2004, comedian Sabina Guzzanti launched a TV program called Raiot satirizing the state-owned television network. Despite extremely high numbers of viewers for its premiere episode, it was taken off of the network, and Guzzanti has since turned her program into a theatrical event.

Il Partito d’Amore (The Party of Love) is another example of political critique moving from the screen to the stage. This long-running piece used real transcripts of interviews and parliamentary meetings to build its dialogue and ever-changing script. The twist? The parts were performed by actual sitting members of the Italian legislature.

If politicians can try their hands at comedy, then so too can comedians try their hands at politics. After his pointed barbs were banned from the small screen, stand-up comedian Beppe Grillo took his political critiques to the streets and the internet. His popularity both in Italy and abroad grew to the point where he founded a new political movement in 2010—the Five Star Movement. Using the internet and word-of-mouth, it has garnered enormous support from Italians fed up with the corruption and excesses of the current government. The movement does not affiliate itself with either the traditional left or the right, and demands answers to tough questions about corruption, the environment, Italy’s inclusion in the EU, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2007, Grillo put together the first “V-Day” rally (here, the “V” stands for vaffanculo, Italian for “fuck off” or “fuck you”), excoriating corrupt politicians. Two million people showed up at the rally. During the 2010 regional elections, four councilors associated with the movement were elected, and in 2012 the movement received the third-highest number of votes overall and won the mayoral seat in Parma. It remains to be seen how the fledgling direct-democracy movement performs in office, but what is clear is that the people of Italy are ready for a change.

If there is one thing that recent events have taught us, it’s that history repeats itself. Though the exact circumstances might change over time, both our capacity for corruption and the intense desire to bring it into the light remain intact. We are all somehow implicated in the triumphs and failings of our society, whether we are perpetrators or rebels or indifferent bystanders, but it is the artist who has the unique ability to hold up a mirror to our greatest flaws and make us truly see them.

The clown jumped over the moon

By Sam Basger

Christopher Bayes: director, actor, designer, composer, clown. No, he doesn’t do birthday parties. Rather, he has embraced the art of clowning and commedia dell’arte—an Italian style of improvised comedy using masks that portray archetypal characters—since his time with the internationally acclaimed Theatre de la Jeune Lune, training with alumni of the prestigious Lecoq School in Paris. For Bayes, this fascination with physical exploration, the freedom to play and create with one’s body, has prompted fruitful collaborations between artists and innovative experiences for audiences. Juggling his busy schedule, Mr. Bayes took a moment to chat with us about how his career so far has led from Molière to Italian madmen, while instructing a few fledgling clowns in between.

How would you describe the world of Accidental Death of an Anarchist?

The play is built on a farce structure and takes place in two identical rooms. One is on the first floor and one is on the fourth. It is written to be played on one set and takes place in 1970. For me, who grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s it had a kind of sitcom feel, like Barney Miller gone terribly wrong or The Honeymooners or I Love Lucy gone completely psycho. So we used this feeling as a kind of inspiration for the design elements. It feels very much of its time but also it is very clear that we are doing a period play in the present moment. There is a kind of acknowledgement of the theatrical conceit.

Why this play and why now?

We have been wanting to do this play for a few years but couldn’t seem to get the rights. So we did Servant of Two Masters instead, which ended up touring the country and playing in five regional theatres over the last four years. Finally we managed to get the rights to do Anarchist and it has been a delight to work on it. I don’t think that there is a particular moment in time that we said, “Oh look at all of this corruption…we need to do Dario Fo!” Corruption and cover-ups never seem to stop. They just seem to get stupider because we have grown to expect them.

What makes a clown?

The clown is an innocent, a beautiful creature full of hope and playfulness that springs from the backstage world of our imagination. The clown is the unsocialized self sent to show us the poetry and beauty that we have given away by becoming organized and responsible adults. It reminds us of possibility of play and the gleeful disaster.

Can you teach someone to be funny?

Yes. I do it every day.

When did you know that physical comedy would become an area of focus for you? How did you discover your aptitude for it?

I don’t really know. When I began as an actor almost all of my training had been in Stanislavsky-based work. Somehow it never seemed completely satisfying to me. I always felt like a bit of a liar. Then I began exploring some more physically based work—Noh theatre and the teachings of Jacques Lecoq. All of the sudden the world of the theatre, the architecture, and the actor-audience relationship began to make sense. The world of the Clown and Commedia came alive for me. And people began to laugh at my idiotic shenanigans. All of the sudden I felt a kind of ownership of the work in a way that I had never felt before. There is also something about the abandon and fearlessness that physical comedy requires that appealed to me as a kind of celebration of the theatrical conversation. It is a kind of call and response that brings everyone together in the room. I think that we go to the theatre for that kind of experience.

How did your relationship with physicality affect your connection with verbal language?

It all travels together. Gesture and language spring from the same source. I guess “the source” is the need to tell a story or the attempt to illuminate something about the human experience. If a story is told with more physicality it becomes a more visceral experience. Verbal storytelling tends to be more of a cerebral experience.

What was your greatest experience in a theatre?

Perhaps being brought up onstage for the curtain call on the opening night of Servant of Two Masters. I hadn’t taken a curtain call in 20 years. The audience looks so beautiful from up there. Especially when they are standing up and clapping with big smiles on their faces. I got to take a bow with my dear friend and co-conspirator of 30 years Steve Epp and a miraculous company of actors. It was a total surprise and very moving.

What makes theatre fun?

Fun makes theatre fun. When the actors are having fun, when we all feel a bit naughty or break some of the rules. Surprise. Or simply giving the gift of our performance away with a kind of reckless, gleeful abandon.

Can you name some of the artists that inspire you?

Elmer Fudd, Don Knotts, Roberto Benigni, Stan Laurel, George Carl, Terry Gilliam, Tom Waits, Jerry Garcia, Magritte, Mozart, The Lopsided Caravan of Misfit Toys, Eli and Cosmo. Annie.

What’s next for Christopher Bayes?

My big summer workshops are coming up in June. It’s an entire month of Clown and Commedia training in Brooklyn. I am always inspired by the courage that it takes for these actors just to get in the room. And then…who knows…perhaps Anarchist will travel more, or Servant of Two Masters may come back, or Doctor in Spite of Himself may go somewhere exciting. Or perhaps something entirely new and altogether surprising.

Watch now

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Introducing Anarchist

Michael Leibert Artistic Director Tony Taccone introduces Accidental Death of an Anarchist.

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Additional resources

More about playwright Dario Fo, commedia dell’arte, political theatre, and the politics of Italy—all courtesy of our staff in the literary department.

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Dario Fo

Biography

  • A detailed biography of Dario Fo and Franca Rame, written by the Nobel Foundation upon Fo’s receipt of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997.

“Italy’s Barbed Political Jester”

  • This article from the New York Times illustrates the controversy and criticism surrounding Fo being awarded the Nobel Prize, with the Vatican taking exception to the glorifying of a figure considered to be religiously subversive.

Interview from 1985

  • A fascinating 1985 interview with Dario Fo from Brooklyn-based Bomb magazine, featuring direct insight into the mind of the great artist and activist only months after Accidental Death of an Anarchist closed its largely unsuccessful run on Broadway.

World Theatre Day Message

  • A filmed English translation of Fo’s 2013 World Theatre Day address, which proves that, even at the age of 87, Fo is as much a revolutionary as he ever was.

Commedia dell’arte

Commedia dell’arte, an Italian style of improvised comedy using masks that portray archetypal or “stock” characters, was a big influence on Dario Fo, and a form which director Christopher Bayes studied extensively and has continued on to teach. Accidental Death of an Anarchist uses elements of both farce and commedia.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • An encyclopedic definition of commedia dell’arte from the New York Metropolitan Museum’s Department of European Paintings. Included is a slideshow of artworks depicting commedia performances and stock characters.

The world of commedia

  • A selection of short films from the National Theatre in London about the history, language, and physicality of this theatrical form.

Jacques Lecoq

  • A short biography of Jacques Lecoq, the man considered to be one of the key practitioners of commedia dell’arte and physical theatre. In addition to collaborating with artistic figures such as Dario Fo and Franco Parenti, Lecoq’s highly regarded school in Paris was an influential training ground for director Christopher Bayes.

Political theatre

“Tradition of political theater refuses to let film do all the talking”

  • From the Seattle Times, theatre critic Misha Berson explores the question of why political theatre faces such an uphill struggle for hearts and minds in contemporary America. The article discusses various playwrights and companies, such as the San Francisco Mime Troupe, to address the fact that theatre can still offer a “vibrant arena for imaginative illumination and gripping debate.”

“The Power of Political Theatre”

  • An article from the Brooklyn Rail magazine about the unique capacity of political plays to inform and entertain.

Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic edited and translated by John Willett

  • This book is a selection of Bertolt Brecht’s essays from 1918 to 1956, in which he first explored his definition of Epic Theatre and theory of verfremdungseffekt, an alienation technique designed to draw the audience’s attention to the artifice of performance.

“Satire in Italy: It’s a riot”

  • In 2004, Silvio Berlusconi, the former Prime Minister of Italy, was silencing any opposition to his reign by having anything deemed subversive removed from broadcast media. As a result, the political conversations and criticisms moved to the theatre. This Economist article speaks of the difficulties that Dario Fo and others faced at the time in attempting to communicate their message with the public.

Italy at the time

A History of Contemporary Italy: Society and Politics 1943–1988 by Paul Ginsborg

  • Paul Ginsborg’s book charts the profound economic and social transformation that occurred in Italy following the end of the Second World War, when the nation shook off its image as an agrarian “peasant country” and became one of the major industrial nations in the western world.

1969: Italy’s “Hot Autumn”

  • An essay from the International Socialist Review by William Keach. The piece discusses Berlusconi’s governance in relation to the political uprisings of the late 1960s, when students and workers across the nation took to the streets.

Piazza Fontana: The Italian Conspiracy (2012) directed by Marco Tullio Giordana

  • This critically lauded Italian film, a fictionalized chronicle of the infamous Piazza Fontana bombing and the events surrounding the incident, provides good context for the political temperature in Italy at the time.