Next Theatre to perform provocative drama

sh Jain

From anarchist groups to bank bombings, Next Theatre Company’s newest play continues the troupe’s tradition of controversial theater, Jason Loewith, Next’s artistic director, told an audience of about 20 people at Evanston Public Library Wednesday.

In a preview lecture to the play, “Accidental Death of an Anarchist,” Loewith discussed the production’s significance and the career of Italian playwright Dario Fo.

Loewith said the play is based on the bombing of the Agricultural Bank in Milan on Dec. 12, 1969. The explosion, which killed 16 people, was blamed on an anarchist group. A member of the group “accidentally” fell out of a fourth-floor window during a late-night interrogation by police.

Ten years later, three members of a fascist group were revealed as the actual perpetrators. An Italian government agent infiltrated the group but failed to stop the bombing.

The play’s main character, a madman, sneaks into the dead anarchist’s trial and pretends to be the judge. Throughout the play, he undermines the government’s case against the anarchist.

Loewith said he wants the play to raise awareness about police interrogation methods and government abuse of authority, particularly in light of recent events in Iraq and the United States.

“It’s more to raise questions than to answer them,” said Loewith. “Any great play will raise more questions than answer them. Bad plays will tell you what to think.”

Next Theatre has garnered a reputation for its controversial productions in its 24 years, audience members said.

“Thought-provoking would be a good way to describe them,” said Laura Dudnik, head of readers’ services at the library, 1703 Orrington Ave. She had previously seen the company perform Theresa Rebeck’s “Omnium Gatherum.”

“(Plays) don’t necessarily have to be politically charged,” said John Collins, the company’s managing director. “Our mission is to pick socially provocative and artistically adventurous work.”

“I saw a play about the McCarthy era and the various people involved,” said Sally Prager, an Evanston travel agent. “That was well done.”

Fo, a deserter from the Italian military during World War II, wrote “Accidental Death” between 1970 and 1971. Although he won a Nobel Prize for his work in 1997, Fo is still not well known in the United States, Loewith said.

“I don’t think this play has been done in Chicago for about 15 years,” he said. “Certainly not since he won his Nobel Prize.”

Fo’s political leanings are probably one reason why his work is not popular in the United States, Loewith said.

“A lot of his work is a little too far left for even the left to do,” said Loewith, citing how actors dressed as Palestinian militants solicited for donations as part of a play.

Loewith also said the plays were difficult to perform.

“You need great, great comic actors to do this material,” he said.

Despite the serious undertones of Fo’s work, Loewith said the plays can still be fun to watch.

“His work is full of life and so much fun — and I’m always desperate for a good satire,” he said.

Next, which operates out of the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St., usually draws about 3,000 people to a play, or about 100-150 at each show, estimated Loewith. The theater holds 150.

Reach Ash Jain at [email protected]