Saturday, July 21, 2012

Strawshop kills with Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Strawberry Theatre Workshop was so concerned about the ability of its production of Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist to compete with the Capitol Hill Block Party this weekend that it slashed ticket prices to $15 and offered refunds to those of us who had already paid the full $30. While attendance wasn't a complete bomb, there were still plenty of good seats available Friday night. Those who opted for the sound and fury of the block party, or other weekend options, missed a hell of a fine show at the Erickson Theatre Off Broadway. Strawshop's Anarchist, directed by Gabriel Baron, knocked it out of the window.

Fo's script is based on real events surrounding the bombing of a bank in Milan in 1969, but the rant against bureaucracy and official state abuse of power is just as relevant today, especially in a city where the U.S. Department of Justice is all over the cops for repeated excessive use of violence. Fo encourages producers of the show to insert local references, and Baron, who directed the same play for Strawshop in 2005, takes advantage in a number of spots.

I'll blow you up real good! Ryan Higgins is hilariously
maniacal as the Maniac in Strawberry Theatre Workshop's
production of Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist,
running through Aug. 4 at the Erickson Theatre Off
Broadway in Seattle. Photo: John Ulman.
All six actors in the show turned in superb performances, anchored by the fantastic Ryan Higgins as "Maniac." Higgins plays at times a high-priced psychiatrist impersonator, a judge impersonator, a one-eyed, one-legged, one-handed professor impersonator, and the anarchist maniac (not impersonated). Higgins is a dervish in an amazingly physical, slapstick performance. He's especially hilarious as the professor, with the fake wooden leg, glass eye, several interchangeable wooden hands, and one of the more ridiculous fake moustaches in theater history. His comedy is such a balance to the covering-up coppers that it's a shock in the final scenes when he's just a plain old crazy-eyed maniac forcing the show to its multiple explosive conclusions.

Galen Joseph Osier and Tim Hyland are marvelous as crooked cops, and MJ Sieber a riot as the corrupt superintendent, right out of the 70s in his half-buttoned polyester shirt and coated with cocaine by the play's end. Jason Harber is understatedly funny—for this play, anyway!—as the doofus police officer, though he's in danger of being typecast; I kept thinking about his doofus turn as Schmendiman in Balagan Theatre's Picasso at the Lapin Agile back in 2009. Rhonda J. Soikowski is pointedly proper as the serious journalist of the second act, though in one of the endings the whole show blows up on her.

The set for Anarchist, designed by Greg Carter, Evan Mosher, Reed Nakayama, and Ron Erickson, was a marvelous backdrop of precariously piled filing cabinets representing the reams of irretrievable documents stashed at police headquarters, the requisite bright interrogation light, a messy desk, a phone with a very long cord, one door for needed entrances and exits, and the window through which the anarchist "fell" and incriminating documents and piles of cash are tossed. The double ending is thought provoking. How much do you care who gets blown up? Does that make you just as bad as the other guys?

We're really enjoying watching Higgins these days. He was fantastic in last year's Live! From the Last Night of My Life at Theater Schmeater, though sadly this happened while we were in our non-blogging phase. We can't wait for his next project, Maldoror with UMO Ensemble.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist is a production not to be missed. We let them keep the extra $15, and it was well worth it! If you insist on attending block parties or other such diversions, well, you have additional theater options. Anarchist runs at the Erickson through August 4.

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