The Serious Side of Comedy – Daniel Williston on Accidental Death of an Anarchist

Daniel Williston

I have to stop laughing on stage. I have one of the smaller parts in this show with a cast of only seven, so the others do the bulk of the talking. All I have to do is stand or sit, pay attention, and not laugh at some of the best comedic actors this city has to offer. It is my responsibility as an actor to support the show of which I am a part… and that means keeping a straight face.

Daniel in Rehearsal

The play deals a lot with responsibility. Dario Fo wrote this scathing play about power being abused, and the fervor with which those in power will attempt to cover it up. He wrote it about Italy in the 1960’s, but in finding modern and local parallels to the political climate Fo was raging against, this show may has well have been written yesterday. The arguments remain the same: What rights and responsibilities do police have to cross the line in pursuit of criminal justice? What rights and responsibilities do ordinary citizens have when under suspicion? What rights and responsibilities do the government officials tasked with setting and maintaining standards and practices of officers have? What happens when those standards are not met? Or when there is a glaring lack of regulations to prevent corrupt behavior? These are complicated questions that are asked when a situation involving police ends in violence.

But even larger questions are raised on the backs of these questions: What is the responsibility of journalism in these cases? The court? The ordinary citizen? The theatre actor? The theatre audience? I know there is something I should be doing, and though working on this show has not provided me with any easy answers, it has succeeded in forcing me to ask serious questions about myself and my responsibility to my city. Other than happening to be cast in this wonderfully complex show, what else can I be doing to rage against scandalous injustices while reading The Star, The Globe and Mail and parsing through Facebook and Twitter feeds? Is what I am already doing even helping? What can I do with the anger and frustration I feel hearing that Sammy Yatim, suffering from a mental illness was shot nine times and tazered for brandishing a pen knife on a streetcar? What were Yatim’s rights in that situation? What were the responsibilities of the officers who killed him? What are MY responsibilities after hearing about it?

I do not yet know the answers to these questions, but this play has forced me to wrestle seriously with them. These serious questions that are presented alongside juggling, singing, fake mustaches, eye patches, slapstick, and all kinds of absurdity. Yet the most absurd thing about this show is the fact that these situations, like the one that angered Fo enough to write this play over 50 years ago, continue to happen, even here in Canada. I’m not sure exactly what my civic responsibilities are after being a part of this show, but if this show can get the audience asking that question of themselves, that’ll be a start. And hopefully I can fulfill my responsibility of keeping a straight face on stage when the audience begins to laugh.

About Soulpepper Theatre Company

Soulpepper, one of Canada's largest urban theatres, is an artist-centred company that celebrates the stories that move us and the artists who tell them. Soulpepper presents vital Canadian interpretations of the classics, and commissions, translates, and develops new work, creating a home for a diverse array of artistic expression across disciplines.

One response to “The Serious Side of Comedy – Daniel Williston on Accidental Death of an Anarchist”

  1. L. Ritchie says :

    You’re so right Daniel. I saw the play last weekend and now understand why director Ravi Jain called the troupe courageous. It took a lot of guts to update the play, as he and Paula Wing have done with Dario Fo’s blessing, and then play the parts. Fo’s thoughtful, seditious humour not only survived but packs a new punch! I haven’t laughed so hard since I saw Top Girls at Soulpepper. It’s a fabulous play, a fabulous ensemble and an amazing lead in Kawa Ada. It makes me so hopeful about the next generation of directors and actors. Bravo!

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