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Real-Life Court Case Inspires Wild Comedy in "Accidental Death of an Anarchist"

(Poster design courtesy Springfield Contemporary Theatre)

Springfield Contemporary Theatre at SCT Center Stage in Wilhoit Plaza presents "Accidental Death of an Anarchist" June 30-July 16. A bank gets bombed, a suspect dies in custody, and the police inquiry turns into... a masterpiece of comedy? Dario Fo's political farce, "Accidental Death of an Anarchist," was inspired by a true incident: an imposter labeled “The Maniac” impersonates a judge who has multiple guilty defendants on his hands, causing constant chaos in a police station.

Gretchen Teague directs the production, which is a Springfield-area premiere, and as “The Maniac” is Equity actor, and new Co-Artistic Director at SCT, Nathan Shelton, who returned to Springfield to help out old friends Lou Schaeffer and Rick Dines.  Dines is going to be spending a lot of time on the West Coast, and as the operation of the company is basically a two-person operation—and Lou Schaeffer was understandably loathe to take on ALL of it by himself—they appealed to Nathan Shelton to return to Springfield from Chicago after four years living there.  “Growing up doing theater here, I really found my home with Springfield Contemporary Theatre.  I’ve been with them for 21 years, since very close to their beginning—this is their 23rd season.  And I always said, the one thing that would get me to move back to Springfield is if that theater needed me.  And with Rick moving to the west coast, and him needing a Co-Artistic Director, it just seemed like a great fit.  I couldn’t help it—I had to come back. And it’s been a great experience, though it’s been a lot of work.  And really, we have some amazing volunteers that help us. Just like any non-profit theater company, we couldn’t do this without the people who come in every day.”

Shelton’s plate has been pretty full since returning to Springfield: for Accidental Death of an Anarchist he’s not only playing a lead role, he’s producing the show and even designed the sets.  Luckily he didn’t have to build them by himself—“we had a lot of great volunteers including Gretchen, who was there a LOT.”  “My six-year-old painted a little bit too,” laughs Gretchen Teague.  Shelton says both of his kids are staying with him in Springfield this summer and helped out as well.

And yes, “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” really is a comedy—a very broad, farcical comedy, albeit with political overtones.  “I liken it to a Looney Tunes cartoon come to life,” says Shelton. “A political Looney Tunes cartoon.”

According to director Gretchen Teague, “What’s funny about this show, I think, is that it’s based in reality.  There was this case of this anarchist who is questioned by police, and then accidently fell out the window (to his death).”  Nathan Shelton indicates the “accidently” part should definitely be in quotation marks.  “The ensuing trial of the police officers became fodder for Dario Fo’s script,” adds Teague.  “And it was strange because the investigation reports were contradictory: some of the reports said it was an accident, and some said it was a suicide. And so when they started looking into it, all these things started to be uncovered, and this is (Fo’s) examination of that,” says Nathan Shelton.  The improbable events occurred in Italy in 1968, and Fo’s play—originally in Italian—came out in 1970. 
And it was extremely up-to-date and topical, says Gretchen Teague. “When (Fo) was doing the original production he was actually getting transcripts from the trial.” “Every night!” adds Nathan Shelton. “And it is hilarious,” he continues.  “It leaves reality, it breaks the fourth wall; and remarkably enough, a show that was written in 1970 is very pertinent to our political climate today.”

Shelton’s character, “The Maniac,” was a friend of the now-deceased bank-bombing anarchist, and infiltrates the police station in disguise as a magistrate in order to find out what really happened to his friend. “So he infiltrates... and hilarity ensues.”   Shelton and Teague sing the praises of the show’s ensemble cast.  “Every single character is so funny and outlandish... you kind of fall in love with all of them, even though some of them arguably might be bad guys.  Including The Maniac.  You just don’t know what people’s true motives are,” says Shelton.

Springfield area premiere. This production contains mature language.  Performances will be Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm, June 30 through July 16. Directed by Gretchen Teague, the cast includes SCT Co-Artistic Director, and Equity actor, Nathan Shelton.  For ticket information call SCT at 831-8001 or visit

Randy Stewart joined the full-time KSMU staff in June 1978 after working part-time as a student announcer/producer for two years. His job has evolved from Music Director in the early days to encompassing production of a wide range of arts-related programming and features for KSMU, including the online and Friday morning Arts News. Stewart assists volunteer producers John Darkhorse (Route 66 Blues Express), Lee Worman (The Gold Ring), and Emily Higgins (The Mulberry Tree) with the production of their programs. He's also become the de facto "Voice of KSMU" in recent years due to the many hours per day he’s heard doing local station breaks. Stewart’s record of service on behalf of the Springfield arts community earned him the Springfield Regional Arts Council's Ozzie Award in 2006.