There's something fascinating about watching a show just miss the mark, as Nimbus's season opener, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, does. The cast is game and hardworking, the script is densely packed with political polemics and pop-culture allusions -- the whole thing should work wonders. But it certainly didn't Thursday evening, certainly not in a first act that struggled to find its footing. However, the second act, where both the madcap and the politics were ratcheted up several notches, was quite a bit better.
Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo used a real-life case, where a suspect jumped -- or perhaps was thrown -- from a fourth-floor window of a Milan police station. In this farce, the Maniac (David Gangler) forces himself into the investigation, masquerading as a judge investigating the long-dormant case. He is able to wrap the various detectives and the captain around his finger, exposing each layer of lies for, at the very least, his own edification.
Fo builds a complex critique of modern political society that still rings true decades after the play was originally written. What doesn't work as well are some of the updates added by the company. Allusions to Iraq and somewhat out-of-date references (okay, CSI: Miami jokes still are funny) seem to be relics of the original Nimbus production from 2006.
Still, while references may be dated (who talks about anarchists anymore? We've moved on to fresh boogeymen), the underlying message isn't. It always seems that the chaos around us -- from bombings, to corruption, to a public gasping at the latest scandal -- is freshly formed, but it's been part of our social order for a very, very long time. The Maniac, like all great fools, is here to show us how mad our assumptions and beliefs really are.
And the action does pick up in the second half, starting with an inspired performance of the old "anarchist" anthem "Closer to Fine," by the Indigo Girls (I wonder if they have a version of Twisted Sister's "We're Not Going to Take it," another tune played during intermission? They may have the makings of a group here.)
The fleet-footed and fast-of-tongue Gangler is a perfect choice for the Maniac, and as the desperation waxes and wanes from the police (Shad Cooper, Brian Kelly, and James Rodriguez) there are some nice moments of comedy and drama.
So, Accidental Death of an Anarchist fails in part because director Liz Neerland and the company seem to have bitten off a very, very big bite. It's not more than they can chew, but it takes quite a while for it to be manageable.