Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Las Vegas

Accidental Death of an Anarchist
Cockroach Theatre Company
Review by Mary LaFrance

Also see Mary's review of Spring Awakening

Christopher Brown, Brett Alters, Brent Mukai, and
Annette Houlihan Verdolino

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A corrupt government, an "accidental death" in police custody, and an official story that unravels under scrutiny—these could be today's headlines. Or they could be the subject of an outrageous comedy. Accidental Death of an Anarchist, the 1970 political farce by Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo, is based on the 1969 arrest of Italian railworker and anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli, falsely accused of a bombing incident (later attributed to neo-fascists). While in custody, Pinelli died under mysterious circumstances after "falling" from a fourth floor window in police headquarters. The official story on Pinelli's death changed several times, and the truth was never uncovered. Since then, the play has been revived again and again in more than 40 countries, demonstrating that official corruption is a topic that never becomes obsolete.

Cockroach Theatre Company brings gusto to its lively staging of Anarchist, under the capable direction of Allegra Libonati, using a new adaptation by James Sandlin Ashby. Starting with our "elevator ride" to the third floor—in a one-story building—it is clear right off the bat that the audience has entered a "bizarro" world. Brett Alters warms up the crowd with his gift for improv, and we are off to the races.

The Italian police have just apprehended a quick-witted prankster known as the "Maniac" (Alters again), who has a special gift for impersonation. Outwitting his interrogator, the Maniac escapes, only to return in the guise of a judge, Marco Malipiero, who is investigating the "accidental" death of the anarchist. Under his clever questioning, the three police officials involved—the Deputy Chief, Inspector Bertozzo, and the Commissioner—are forced to change their story multiple times, only to have it unravel yet again. A journalist arrives, asking even more questions. The Maniac then dons a new disguise, that of a forensics expert, pretending to help the police to placate the journalist with the most far-fetched scenario of all. The play lacks a satisfying pay-off, as the ending doesn't really tie up the loose ends, but that is consistent with the reality that inspired it; neither Pinelli's death nor the identity of the real bombers was ever conclusively resolved.

In this well-paced production, accomplished actors Christopher Brown, Brian Sloan, and Annette Houlihan Verdolino are excellent as the corrupt officers. With fine comic timing and a full-blown commitment to their slimy characters, they keep the satire sharp and focused. But their performances cry out for some visual enhancement. They look too normal. Their characters are suggestive of the Keystone Cops as well as the Marx Brothers, and some exaggeration in their costumes and make-up would have raised the comedy to that higher plane. In contrast, the Maniac sports an absurd disguise in his final impersonation of the forensics expert. But he couldn't possibly carry off this ridiculous deceit if he were the only bizarre-looking person in the room.

As the slow-witted officer who takes orders from everyone in the building, Brent Mukai is a natural comic. Endowed with a broad, open face, he creates a charming caricature, even without any physical exaggeration.

The show ultimately belongs to Brett Alters, who gives a tour-de-force performance as the Maniac. He is rarely off the stage. His rapid-fire delivery of one monologue after another is a remarkable feat of memory. Add to that his natural stage presence and improvisational skill, and the result is a fine evening of clowning.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist, through February 10, 2019, at the Art Square Theatre, 1025 S. 1st St., Las Vegas NV. Performances are Thursday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., and Friday, February 8 at 8 p.m. For tickets ($25 general admission, $20 for students, seniors, and public servants) and further information, visit

Maniac: Brett Alters
Journalist: Jillian Austin
Deputy Chief: Christopher Brown
Commissioner: Annette Houlihan Verdolino
Officer: Brent Mukai
Bertozzo: Brian Sloan

Additional Creative:
Set Design: Jesse Soper
Lighting Design: Ellen Bone
Costume Design: Abby Stroot
Sound Design: Rosalie Chaleunsouck