Dressed in the garb of Cambodian officials while referencing “moto drivers” and “the Ministry of the Interior” throughout, the Phnom Penh Players bring a fresh relevance to Dario Fo’s “Accidental Death of an Anarchist.”
Although it might not incite local officials to close the theater in which it is playing and burn other theaters, as it did when the play first opened in Italy in 1969, the message remains provocative in modern-day Phnom Penh.
On the surface, it is a light farce poking fun at government bureaucracy and corruption. But a more sinister theme emerges in the script’s subject matter—a terrorist suspect’s alleged suicide. It is based on a true story.
Simon Cramp stars as a mentally unstable man arrested for “assuming a persona under false pretenses” who turns the tables on the police trying to question him. Cramp called the role “good fun” and said the subject of government bureaucracy was familiar, since he works at the Ministry of Environment and “sees that kind of thing all the time.”
The play is co-directed by Belinda Jones and Danny Whitehead. Whitehead said the play is especially relavant in Cambodia because of its statements against repression.
Other highlights include an interesting gender power dynamic that emerges between the traditionally male-cast chief of police, played here by actress Susan Nich, and two subordinates: The captain (Max Wright) and the officer (Cass Madin).
“Anarchist’s” best moments occur in the second act, with the full cast on stage and a reporter (Jen Makin) putting in her politically charged views. Whitehead said Phnom Penh Players productions have not traditionally drawn large Cambodian audiences, although he hoped that “Anarchist” would be an exception. He said 15 Cambodian college students enrolled in a business ethics class will attend one of the performances.
“Anarchist” opens at 7:30 pm today and continues on Friday and Saturday at the Russian Cultural Center. Tickets are $10, or $5 for volunteers and Cambodians.
All profits go toward Cambodian fine arts.