"Anarchist" brings Director Stephen Squibb to Harvard

by Madeline Smith

This fall's Visiting Director Project closed last weekend with the final performance of The Accidental Death of an Anarchist on the Loeb Mainstage. The show's director was Stephen Squibb, whose fresh and imaginative perspective brought Dario Fo's play to life, transporting all the humor and chaos of Milan, 1970 to Cambridge, 2011.

Although he never is referenced directly, the play is about Giuseppe Pinelli, an anarchist railway worker who allegedly bombed the Piazza Fontana bank in 1969. Pinelli fell to his death from the fourth floor of a police station, and Fo's play (as well as real investigations) explore whether this was a suicide or a murder.

Quick, farcical, and entirely unpredictable, Squibb's production required you to leave your expectations at the door. Audience members were seated in the Loeb's stage area, facing other audience members, and watching their delightfully bewildered expressions. There was video, song and dance. The script was infused with the occasional reference to pop culture, Harvard life and, most notably, "the economic crisis."

But the script behind this production wasn't merely sprinkled with "inside jokes"; it was the conglomerate of three translations of Fo's play. Squibb and his cast combed through each to find the most effective language, in addition to supplementing their hybrid script with new material. Still, Squibb would hesitate to call the end result an adaptation--which he claims maintains 95 percent of Fo's language--but rather an engagement with the work to which any director is entitled. "We always have a dialogical relationship with the text," said Squibb.

Another memorable component of the production was its incorporation of multimedia and multiple art forms. About 15 minutes in, an Opening Credits film was projected, accompanied by loud music and a full company dance number. Squibb doesn't cloak his reasoning with anything overly complex--"There's just something compelling about people singing and dancing--always has been, always will be." And compelled we were--specifically when Total Eclipse of the Heart eerily became The Internationale at the close of Act 1.

What should audiences have taken away from the performance? Squibb feels he has no right to dictate that: "There's no one thing. It's different than an essay…on stage, contradictory things can co-exist."

The contradiction of farce and social commentary, of the 70s and today, of straight theater and musical theater and, most importantly, of the events surrounding Pinelli's death, befuddled and bemused the Loeb audiences.

[Caption: Director Stephen Squibb and friend (photo by Kristianna Smith).]