Arts

Police impunity staged as farce at Strathmore

cop

Cops try to restrain the Maniac in Dario Fo classic at Strathmore University, September 24, 2022. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

What happens when a bully takes charge of a situation, be it a police station, a city, or a country?

And what if the bully is really a conman who can just as easily pass himself off as a madman who can be ‘forgiven’ for all his bad deeds since people generally believe that no sane person can behave as badly as he does. Thus, he must be insane.

We have seen bullies and conman operating a lot in the world these days. Take the former president of the United States, for instance. We also just saw one in last weekend’s production by the Strathmore Drama Club of Dario Fo’s brilliant satire on crazies and bad cops in ‘The Accidental Death of an Anarchist.”

Fo’s play grew out of a real-life incident that took place decades ago in Milan, Italy, where there were street protests over the death of a political dissident, an anarchist who was picked up by cops and shortly thereafter the same cops declared the anarchist had ‘accidentally’ died.

Then when the public was not appeased by the cops’ claim of ‘accidental’ death, the police declared the man had committed ‘suicide’ instead. The public went wild with outrage, and Fo scripted his controversial play.

Seen as inflammatory for taking on the topic of police impunity, Fo has subsequently been praised for his daring use of dark comedy as a means of opening people’s eyes to the reality of impunity and their ability to fight it.

Trevor Munene plays the flamboyant Maniac, the flippant conman who has a knack for swapping identities at the drop of a hat. He’s been hauled into the same police station as the anarchist had gone and charged with a slew of misdemeanors.

But he’s not worried. Instead, he seems to relish the chance to meet Inspector Bulinga (Justin Mwanzia) and turn this cop’s world upside down.

In this case, the Maniac’s a vagrant, but he claims otherwise. In the course of minutes, he morphs from being a Pastor, Lawyer, Doctor, and Ph.D to being a Psychiatrist, Army Captain, a Teacher of Calligraphy. And when he has a chance, he expands his covert plan of disrupting the cops’ operation.

Maniac initially doesn’t look like there’s a method to his madness. But after picking up the Inspector’s phone and playing his receptionist, he starts off a chain reaction among the police that eventually leads to the play’s stunning end.

Divide and conquer seems to be one tactic this cunningly crazy Bully employs. He proceeds stealthily, calls in the police Superintendent (Denzel  Maniple) and succeeds in bullying him and his underlings until they all are scared of being ‘found out’. For Maniac, now playing a retired High Court judge, intends to reopen the cold case of the Anarchist.

The scene gets increasingly insane as ‘the Judge’ bullies the cops into doing everything from singing and dancing to essentially admitting they bumped off the anarchist.

Behind their backs, the Maniac calls up the Media, represented by Ms Sophia (Venessa Gichio) who he has quietly coached on what questions to ask, such as where are the forensic reports the press never got to see?

All this time, the Judge claims he is only seeking the truth, yet he doesn’t reveal that he’s been officially ‘certified insane’.

None of the cops are wiser until Inspector Bulinge returns to his office wearing an eye patch that he got after being punched by his fellow Inspector (Jeff Obonyo) who’d been misinformed by the Maniac about nasty things Bulinge purportedly said about him.

Bulinge immediately detected something fishy about the Judge. But it isn’t until Maniac discloses that he’s been recording their conversation since he arrived as the flagrant vagrant that the scene gets intense.

Maniac gives that recording to the journalist who quickly meets the same fate that we now see must have happened to the anarchist as well.

The Anarchist had been charged with dropping off bombs in train stations. But the Maniac claims the cops, in cahoots with the Government, planted bombs to disrupt everyday life and keep the populous unprepared to protest their country getting turned into a police state.

Our slippery Maniac manages to escape the fate of the Anarchist in a split second. But before he goes, he finds one undetonated bomb and pulls the pin. Boom! That’s the end!

I have to say this cast did a fabulous job; Trevor Munene leading the field in capturing Fo’s defiant spirit of anarchy and fearless freedom of expression.