Q) Critically analyze the Figure of Madman in Dario Fos play The Accidental Death of an anarchist.
A) Dario Fos play The Accidental Death of an Anarchist (1970) lies in the category of revolutionary theatre that challenges the fascist regime of Italy. The play is a farce based on events involving a real person, Giuseppe Pinelli, who fell or was thrown from the fourth floor window of a Milan police station in 1969. He was accused of bombing a bank. The accusation is widely seen as part of the Italian Far Rights strategy of tension. Just like Fos other play, this play is also funny and subversive and shows a strong preference for the culture and traditions of the ordinary people and a commitment to the left wing politics.
The play moves quickly through a series of farcical situations and exposes the hypocrisy and anti- people character of the bourgeois society and the so called sacred institutions- the police, the judiciary, the religion and the media. The play was originally written and performed in Italian in 1970 and first English translation was done in 1979.
Central to the play is the character of The Madman, who is the prime protagonist of the play. Through the story of the madman in a police station Dario Fo has a created a classic example of exquisitely political theatre with a comedy that begins from being realistic, (the stage setting is of a realistic, ordinary police station) moves towards the frankly implausible (the madman, the inspector, the superintendent and the constable singing the song of anarchists in the police station), reaches to the level of grotesque (the constant punching and kicking of Bertozzo by the police officials, and the falling eye) until it ends with a hilarious and ludicrous climax.
He (the madman) invents dialogue based on a paradoxical or on real situation and goes on from there by virtue of some kind of natural, geometric logic, inventing conflicts that find their solutions in one gag after another in correspondence with a parallel political theme, a political theme which is clear and didactic. You are moved and you laugh but above all you are made to think, realize and develop your understanding of everyday events that had escaped your attention.
Franca Rame on The Character of Madman in Accidental Death of an anarchist
The madman is not just a character in the play, but he acts as a literary device in the play. He provides most of the humor content of the play. The madman is whimsical and he constantly contradicts other characters as well as himself. His series of logical/illogical arguments becomes impossible to tackle and it frustrates the Police Department. Even though being termed as psychologically unfit, the madman appears to be the most intelligent character in the play.
He ridicules the police officials for missing out on the basic concepts of English grammar and the use of the most important COMMA that changes the meaning of a sentence. He dictates the terms of law and judiciary to police officials. He is extremely sarcastic. He ridicules the superintendent for assuming the railway man planted the bomb in railway station without any substantiate evidence and sarcastically rebukes the kindergarten logic.
The people in power appear to be inhuman and brute in their actions, and the sacred governmental place, the police station appears to be a madhouse or a slaughterhouse. The madman, even though he is mad appears to be the sanest character in the play. In fact, he appears to be directing the play according to his wishes. Suffering from a disease of enacting people, he sees the world as a stage and other people as his fellow characters.
He warns Bertozzo that soon he is about to be punched by Pisani and warns him to duck. Bertozzo ignores the directorial warning of the madman. Later he tells the superintendent to stop playing around and keep to the script. The actions of the play move around as the madman says and everyone does what he asks them to. Bertozzo, who defies the madmans instructions, keeps on getting punched and thrown out.
Hence, Fo, in his play, takes the power out from the hands of the police, the judiciary, and the media and gives it to the representative of the lower section of society, the madman. By pretending to be, in turn to be various figures of authority psychiatrist, professor, magistrate, bishop, forensic expert the Maniac forces officials to re-create the events with the purpose of showing the inconsistencies in the official reports of Pinellis leap and to confess their responsibility in the anarchists death. The madman manages to create mayhem within the policeman, representatives of law and order and figures of authority are made to appear ridiculous and a target of laughter. He exposes how people in power are all in collusion to save their own.
Now I am about to show some of the theatre/TV productions of the play and give brief comments on how the character of madman operates in them. Firstly, take a look at the 1983 British TV movie that was telecasted on Channel 4. In this production, the original Italian setting is mixed with contemporary references to Thatchers Britain.
1) In the beginning itself, various impersonations of the madman are shown pointing towards the crime committed by him.
2) The madman constantly points towards the audience that is standing upwards, and the crew, and chats with them. And he talks to the director about the censorship laws on television in Britain, when the inspector says The F word. (5 minutes 30 seconds).
3) In the play, not only the madman enacts different roles, but the same constable is used on the 2nd floor and the fifth floor and also as a liftman. The madman here is concerned with anti materialist sentiment as well. The madman remarks about the fact low budget of the show saying, Couldnt they get a different actor to play you? Whos directing this thing, Ian MacGregor? (17 minutes) and the Maniac, This is commercial television in crisis!
Similarly, in The IIT production of the play, which is performed in India, in Hindi, the references are converted according to Indian settings and sentiments.
1) The University of Padua is converted into University of Patiala. The
madman teaches the Hindi vowels to the constable and the policeman. (4:30) (A aa e ee)
2) The police inspector in the 6th minute of the play says to the madman that hes madder than the madman. As I said above the madman appears to be the sanest of characters in the play.
My fair Heathen Productions in their September 2007 production actually used a woman for the role of the madman. Hence the madman is enacting as a madman from the beginning and in fact is a mad woman. This does not bring a significant change to the play, except probably the so called marginalized figure of a madman, becomes a more marginalized figure as in this production its a woman, who comes to a male dominated domain and creates havoc in the lives of the men from powerful sections of the society.
Hence, different theatre companies have used different types of madman to heighten the message of the play.