Accidental Death of an Anarchist opens in the central police headquarters in Milan, in a drab, ordinary office room. A large window forms a central part of the set. Inspector Bertozzo and a constable enter, and Bertozzo begins a direct address to the audience in which he states the official version of the anarchist’s death, insisting that the police verdict of “accidental death” was “quite reasonable.” The anarchist, he maintains, fell from a window of the Milan police headquarters. The constable brings in the Maniac, who is dressed as a clichéd version of a Freudian analyst and who carries four overstuffed plastic bags. Bertozzo takes the Maniac’s statement, constantly being distracted and disrupted by the Maniac’s antics, the focal point of which is the Maniac’s qualifications in the field of psychoanalysis by virtue of having been in fifteen “looney bins.” Bertozzo throws the Maniac out and leaves for a meeting.
The Maniac reenters and begins to “dispense justice,” as he explains, by pitching his own and others’ files out the window. When the telephone rings, the Maniac answers, and, on discovering the caller to be Inspector Pissani, Bertozzo’s superior, the Maniac impersonates the judge who is being sent to investigate the anarchist’s death, thus setting up Bertozzo’s exposure later in the play. During the telephone call, the Maniac pretends that Bertozzo is in the room shouting insults at Inspector Pissani and giving him “raspberries.” When Bertozzo actually returns, the Maniac advises him to avoid Pissani; Bertozzo forcibly ejects the Maniac from the office and discovers the missing files. The scene ends in chaos as Inspector Pissani enters and, set up by the Maniac, promptly knocks out Bertozzo.
Scene 2 moves to the actual room in which the “accidental death” happened. The Maniac enters, this time disguised as Professor Marco Maria Malipiero, the investigating judge. Pissani and the constable are fully deceived, and the phony judge begins his investigation, successfully tricking the Superintendent and Pissani into deeper revelations of their own corruption. They reenact the scene and reveal that there was no proof for the accusation, that the confession was forced by intimidation tactics, and that, as the Maniac says, “we’re dealing with a campaign of sustained psychological violence followed by a public exhibition of outrageous and contradictory lies.” Act 1 culminates with the Maniac leading the inspector and the Superintendent to the window and suggesting that they jump, causing first their total breakdown and then a reconstruction of events in which they befriend the anarchist and sing a four-part harmony to the “Song of Anarchy.”
Act 2 turns simultaneously more serious and more absurd as the investigation continues. The Maniac reveals further lies about the official report and the brutality with which the confession was obtained. The absurdity of the report is revealed by the Maniac’s deductions, such as his claim that the anarchist would have to have been a tripod for the terms of the report to prove logical. These musings reveal that a shoe was planted as evidence after the fact. As the Maniac gets closer and closer to the truth, the Superintendent and Pissani quarrel, and in the heat of it reveal that they pushed the man out the window. The exposure of official corruption is thus complete through the Maniac’s phony investigation.
The action turns because they are expecting a journalist, of whom they are afraid because she, Maria Feletti, is left-wing and aware of their tactics. The Maniac helps them further, disguising himself as a police expert in an outrageous costume complete with glass eye and wooden arms and legs. General chaos ensues around a bomb that may or may not be real, Feletti asks too many questions, and the Maniac is discovered to be the...
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