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Geneva Anderson digs into art

Berkeley Rep’s “Accidental Death of An Anarchist”…tweaked for the liberally inclined, through April 20, 2014

Comic actor Steven Epp returns to Berkeley Rep as the insanely shrewd Maniac who sets off the investigation in Dario Fo’s classic comedy, “Accidental Death of an Anarchist.” Photo by Joan Marcus

Comic actor Steven Epp returns to Berkeley Rep as the insanely shrewd Maniac who sets off the investigation in Dario Fo’s classic comedy, “Accidental Death of an Anarchist.” Photo by Joan Marcus

Ever since he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1979, Italian playwright and actor Dario Fo has been on my radar.  An anarchist and a profoundly gifted clown, Fo’s genius comes in his ability to make us look at ourselves in new light. All of his plays, in some way or another, deal with subverting ideology, questioning why society is set up a certain way and why some people are the winners and others losers. Accidental Death of an Anarchist, which opened Wednesday at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theater and runs through April 20, 2104, is a tweaked version of Fo’s original masterpiece from 1970, a  bit too tweaked.

Adapted by Gavin Richards from a translation by Gillian Hanna and directed by Christopher Bayes, this Yale Repertory Theatre co-production has been injected with some (stale) references to contemporary American politics and pop culture (Obama health care, NSA, Netflix, Bush-Cheney and so forth) intended to resonate with the well-informed liberal cognoscenti.  The resulting mash-up feels like an overdone affirmation, considering Berkeley’s Rep’s sophisticated audience.  The good news is that the add-ons are fired off quickly and only mildly detract from the play’s exhilarating tour de farce—Steven Epp.  Director Stephen Bayes and Epp were the team behind Berkeley’s Rep’s 2012 hysterical hit A Doctor in Spite of Himself.  Here, Epp works with a great group of comic actors whose chemistry and timing and lunacy are so spot on you have the impression it’s all being improvised on the spot.  The play contains some of the finest comedic acting you’ll see in the Bay Area this year.  And the various musical gigs, all under Aaron Halva’s direction, are lyrically delightful and hysterically performed.

The play addresses a real-life mystery that got tremendous play in Italy—the 1969 death of a suspected anarchist who “fell” from the fourth floor window of a police station window while being interrogated for bombing of a bank in Milan which left 16 dead.  Did he fall, or, was he pushed?  That’s the question.  The charges were eventually dropped against the anarchist but it was too late to be of benefit.  Fo called his play a “tragic farce.”  Knowing full well that laughter can be a profound vehicle for exploring human nature, Fo deconstructed this man’s tragic death through comedy.  A Maniac (Steven Epp in the role Fo wrote for himself), who himself has been arrested for fraud, sequentially questions the police who are holding him captive  By pretending to be on their side, he gradually wins the trust of the gullible officers, records their conversations and tricks them into divulging what really happened.  In the process, he exposes their brutality, corruption and collusion with neo-fascist gangs carrying out such bombings in Italy at the time.  The events of the play are fictional but the implications profound.  The fast-paced momentum, epic slack stick and wonderful moments of musical comedy are delightful.

In Dario Fo’s comedy, “Accidental Death of an Anarchist,” now at Berkeley Rep, Maniac (Steven Epp) (center) impersonates a judge and interrogates quack Constable (Eugene Ma, left) and dim-witted Inspector Pissani (Allen Gilmore) and catches them in a lie about a death that occurred at the police station.

In Dario Fo’s comedy, “Accidental Death of an Anarchist,” now at Berkeley Rep, Maniac (Steven Epp) (center) impersonates a judge and interrogates Constable (Eugene Ma) (left) and dim-witted Inspector Pissani (Allen Gilmore(right)) and catches them in a lie about a death that occurred at the police station.

Highpoints are the opening of the play, when Inspector Bertozzo (Jesse J. Perez) is interrogating the Maniac on the first floor of the police station. Perez and Epps are magical.  Perez later shows how light he is on feet as he performs a number of song and dance gigs with Inspector Pissani (Allen Gilmore), the Superintendent (Liam Craig), and Eugene Ma, brilliantly playing two Constables at once and seemingly embodying Oliver Hardy.  Renata Friedman steals the action as Feletti, an Oriana Fallaci-style investigate journalist who is conducting her own investigation in a short red dress. When she lets go with a stupefyingly-agile rap riff, prepare to have your jaws drop.  But nothing compares with Epp, who jumps from one disordered personality to another, never ever missing a beat.

Cast & Creative Team: The cast of Accidental Death of an Anarchist includes Liam Craig (Superintendent), Steven Epp (Maniac) Renata Friedman (Feletti), Allen Gilmore (Pissani), Eugene Ma (Constables), Jesse J. Perez (Bertozzo).   The creative team consists of Aaron Halva (music director, composer, and musician), Travis Hendrix (musician), Kate Noll (scenic design), Elivia Bovenzi (costumes), Olivier Wason (lighting), Charles Coes (sound designer), Nathan Roberts (composer and sound designer), Michael F. Bergmann (projection designer). The stage manager for Berkeley Rep is Kimberly Mark Webb.

Jesse J. Perez (L) is the fiery tempered police inspector, Bertozzo, and Renata Friedman (R) is an Oriana Fallaci-style investigative journalist, Felletti, who bring considerable depth to Dario Fo’s classic comedy, “Accidental Death of an Anarchist,” at Berkeley Rep. Photo by Jared Oates

Jesse J. Perez (L) is the fiery tempered police inspector, Bertozzo, and Renata Friedman (R) is an Oriana Fallaci-style investigative journalist, Felletti, who bring considerable depth to Dario Fo’s classic comedy, “Accidental Death of an Anarchist,” at Berkeley Rep. Photo by Jared Oates

Special Events:

Repartee :  FREE docent talks before Tuesday and Thursday evening performances, and free discussions after all matinees

Post-play discussions:  Thursday 3/27, Tuesday 4/1, and Friday 4/11 following the performance

Open captioned performance:  Sunday 4/20 @ 2pm

Details:  Accidental Death of an Anarchist runs through April 20, 2014 at Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison Street @ Shattuck, Berkeley, CA 94704.

Performances are Tues-Sun with matinees on Sat, Sun and some Thurs.

Tickets: $29 to $99.  Discounts:  Half-price tickets available for anyone under 30 years of age; $10 discount for students and seniors one hour before curtain.  Tickets and info: 510 647–2949 or visit: www.berkeleyrep.org

Parking:  Paid parking is readily available at over 5 parking garages as close as one block from the theatre. The Allston Way Garage, 2061 Allston Way, between Milvia and Shattuck, offers $5 parking Tuesday–Friday after 6 PM.

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March 17, 2014 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Steven Epp returns to Berkeley Rep with “A Doctor in Spite of Himself”─bawdy, silly, politically incorrect and not to be missed, through March 25, 2011

Is laughter the best cure?   It certainly helps!  Molière’s classic comedy, A Doctor in Spite of Himself, which opened at Berkeley Rep on February 16, offers an ingenious promenade of tawdry merry-making carried out by actors  and puppets that resemble them.  Adapted by comic actor extraordinaire Steven Epp and director Christopher Bayes, this farce maintains the structure and tempo of the 17th century original but delights with its modern innuendo and live music.

The show opens in the woods with an all too familiar marital argument—who’s the boss?   Woodcutter and lout, Sganarelle (Steven Epps), is beating his wife Martine (Justine Williams) and her ample bouncing breasts assert themselves in the bout as much she does.  A delightful Punch and Judy show takes place behind the actors, the puppets replicating what’s transpiring live.  Adding a rural touch, and enforcing the rapid-fire potty-mouth humor, the puppet show takes place in an outhouse.

Pained and pissed-off about taking a beating, Martine is devoted to pay-back.  Opportunity soon presents itself—when two servants (Liam Craig  and Jacob Ming-Trent) show up in search of doctor, she tells them that Sganarelle is a doctor but the only way to get him to admit to this high rank is to beat him silly.  After a thorough beating, Sganarelle is ready to admit to anything.  He is quite shocked to see how much respect he gets as doctor when he shows up at the local big-wig’s (Allen Gilmore) plush chateau to treat his daughter, Lucinde (Renata Friedman), a garish-goth girl who is FAKING illness.  Turns out, she’s mourning being separated from her lover (Chivas Michael), whom her wealthy father can’t stand.  Reversals are the order of the day in this fast-paced romp: the doctor is indistinguishable from the peasant and the healthy from the sick.   The riotously funny dialogue is so expertly and freshly delivered, that it sounds like improv.

While the dialogue is superb, so too is the music composed by Aaron Halva and played onstage with gusto by Greg C. Powers (trombone, tuba, ukulele) and Robertson Witmer (accordion, clarinet, drums).  The music runs the gamut from recognizable snippets of pop to opera to Broadway.  The man sitting next to me got so excited that he started conducting, humming, and swaying at all once and was promptly shut down with a swat of a program.   It’s that kind of show—expect fits of laughter everywhere and anywhere.

Run Time:  90 minutes, no intermission

Post-show discussions: Stick around for a lively 30-minute Q&A with the cast or other company members:  Thursday, March 1, 2012, Tuesday, March 6, 2012 and Friday, March 16, 2012

Free tastings:  Join Berkeley Rep for complimentary tastings!  Sample wine, beer, chocolate, champagne, vodka, organic produce or other delights before select Friday 8pm, Saturday 8pm and Sunday 7pm performances.

  • Friday, February 24: Dr. Kracker / 7pm
  • Saturday, February 25: Peterson Winery / 7pm
  • Sunday, February 26: Ecology Center / 6pm
  • Friday, March 2: Charbay Winery and Distillery / 7pm
  • Sunday, March 4: Green Barrel Wine Merchants / 6pm
  • Friday, March 9: Speakeasy Ales & Lagers / 7pm
  • Saturday, March 10: Stella Nonna Catering / 7pm
  • Sunday, March 11: Ecology Center / 6pm
  • Saturday, March 17: Donkey & Goat Winery / 7pm
  • Sunday, March 25: Ecology Center / 6pm

Details: A Doctor in Spite of Himself  runs through March 25, 2012 at Berkeley Rep, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley, CA.  Tickets: $14.50 to $73.  Call 510-647-2949 or visit http://www.berkeleyrep.org .

February 29, 2012 Posted by | Theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment