Accidental Death of an Anarchist

by Dario Fo

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How does Accidental Death of an Anarchist suggest multiple layers of truth and reality?

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Dario Fo uses the word “accidental” ironically in the title. The police detention and interrogation of a suspect results in his death but not by accident. It might be a suicide or a homicide, depending on which characters the audience believes. The authorities maintain that the man showed suicidal tendencies, which led to him falling out a window. The investigation into his death includes many twists and turns relating to sanity and self-perception. Fo’s tragi-comic play thus explores truth and reality in terms of the manner of the man’s death and broader questions of identity and justice.

The premise of the play is that an investigation is being conducted into the prisoner’s death. Initially, a police inspector, Bertozzo, tells the audience that the official report is correct: the suspect fell out of an upstairs window in police headquarters. The play’s absurdist perspective is revealed through the Maniac character, who has impersonated a psychiatrist and quickly begins making a mockery of official police procedure. Upon managing to be left alone in the station offices, he impersonates a judge—first on the telephone and then in person. As this character has been in numerous psychiatric institutions, Fo uses him to raise questions about relative perceptions of sanity.

The fake judge proceeds to get involved in the ongoing investigation into the prisoner’s death. His performance is so convincing that two police inspectors confess to having coerced the suspect into confessing. After he identifies numerous inconsistencies and lies in the official report, they admit that they the victim did not fall out the window: they pushed him.

While it seems that the truth has been uncovered, the Maniac continues to mix truth and reality as he assumes another disguise. While apparently aiming to help the police fool a journalist, he then reveals his underlying intentions: to attack capitalism and the police state by blowing up the station. Thus, the true anarchist is the Maniac, not the original victim. Fo’s exploration of truth and reality is extended further by his enlisting the audience’s participation. Rather than him providing a fixed ending to the play, he allows the audience to choose the version they prefer. One will allow the anarchist to escape and thereby condemn the police, while the other will lead to his death and exonerate the authorities' behavior.

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