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Theater: Absurd City

Cockroach Theatre brings a 49-year-old play to Las Vegas at just the right time

Because it’s so pungently insightful, let’s not bury Darren Weller’s money quote: “If there’s any place primed to see a play told by clowns, it’s Las Vegas.” Yes!

Now, the context: Weller is the artistic director of Cockroach Theatre, and the play he’s talking about is Dario Fo’s absurdist classic The Accidental Death of an Anarchist (opening January 23). It resists easy summary, but here are some key elements: an antic lead character known as The Maniac; an anarchist, dead after falling from a window of the police station; cops who may have pushed him; official corruption; impersonation; deceit.

Point is, this isn’t just any old tale told by clowns. For one thing, Fo won the 1997 Nobel Prize for Literature. For another, it’s loaded with social commentary and, though it debuted in 1970 in Italy, it’s as ripe for America as this morning’s headlines.

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“It’s about how corruption is the norm, not the exception,” Weller says, then, with elegant understatement, adds, “it ties in nicely with the current moment.” Political storytelling can be tricky, Weller knows. “But social commentary delivered from the mouths of clowns makes for good theater.” As you may have surmised, this isn’t some careful scrimshaw of subtle meanings  from which the audience must tease out its messages. “This is big, bold, brash, bawdy theater,” he promises.

Making it all work onstage will be the job of guest director Allegra Libonati, whose website describes her as “a lover of music, circus, magic, dance, masks, and puppets.” Sounds like she’s coming to the right place, at the right time, for the right show.

The Accidental Death of an Anarchist, by Cockroach Theatre, January 23-February 10, $20-$25, Art Square Theatre, 1025 S. Frist Street,

Scott Dickensheets is a Las Vegas writer and editor whose trenchant observations about local culture have graced the pages of publications nationwide.