‘Accidental Death of an Anarchist’ is wild, wacky at Berkeley Rep

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COURTESY JOAN MARCUS
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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.

That’s not surprising, with comic actor extraordinaire Steven Epp in the play’s central role of the Maniac.

The Minneapolis-based actor and former co-artistic director of the Theatre de la Jeune Lune has scored previous hits in Berkeley Rep productions of “The Miser” and “A Doctor in Spite of Himself.” But “Anarchist” seems tailor-made for his incisive comic skills.

Fo’s 1970 script, which centers on the investigation of a bombing in Milan — and the chief suspect, a railway worker who may or may not have jumped from a fourth-floor window at police headquarters — gets a brilliantly calibrated staging by director Christopher Bayes.

Arriving in Berkeley after a run at Yale Rep, Kate Noll’s grimy police station set, framed by a crumbling façade, yields several special effects (the elevator between floors is especially impressive), with Oliver Wason’s lighting, and sound designs by Nathan A. Roberts and Charles Coes, adding essential atmosphere.

Still, it’s the cast that sells it. Wittily costumed by Elivia Bovenzi and working in a distinctive style combining traditional commedia dell’arte with goofy contemporary humor, Epp’s Maniac — a hyperactive whirlwind of epithets, asides and telling gestures — gets excellent support from Liam Craig’s menacing Superintendent, Allen Gilmore’s jive-talking Pissani and Eugene Ma’s high-voiced, slack-jawed Constables.

Jesse J. Perez is the blowhard boss, Bertozzo, and Renata Friedman gives a crisp performance as the journalist Feletti. Aaron Halva and Travis Hendrix supply live music for the frequent bursts of song — bits drawn from a dizzying range of sources including American standards, heart-on-the-sleeve Italian songs, disco hits and “The Sound of Music.”

Act 2 hits a high note of hilarity, with the investigation about to break wide open and Epp leading the cast to a big-bang finish.

Fo’s subversive humor always connects, because his themes — injustice, political corruption, cover-ups and payoffs — never go out of style. But some of the most electrifying moments in Bayes’ production happen when Epp departs from the script and zeroes in on 21st-century ills. His rants on fracking and arts funding, bank bailouts and government surveillance are delivered with enough conviction to make anarchists of us all.

REVIEW

Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Presented by Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Where: Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley

When: 8 p.m. most Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. most Saturdays, 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes April 20

Tickets: $29 to $99

Contact: (510) 647-2949, www.berkeleyrep.org

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