Sacco & Vanzette: A Vaudeville
Reviewed by David Kashimba

Marin Theatre Company treats Bay Area audiences to an American history lesson with its production of Sacco & Vanzette: A Vaudeville. Written in 1998 by East Coast playwright Louis Lippa, the play is based on two Italian immigrants accused of a robbery murder on April 15, 1920. This real life court case was very controversial at the time. Many people felt that Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were innocent and that prejudice against immigrants was the real reason for their being accused of this crime.

Sound familiar? I know that I experienced similar prejudice as the son of Polish immigrants in a small coal-mining town in Pennsylvania. It’s part of our great melting pot society that the most recent immigrants have to cook in the pot a long time before they can fully melt into Americana.

The playwright was partly inspired by a letter he had found written by his father on August 30, 1927, “two weeks after Sacco and Vanzetti had been executed. In the letter my father, who was a young man at the time, mentions speaking at an outdoor rally in Syracuse, New York, condemning what he called the legal assassination of his two countrymen,” Lippa said.

After researching the trial and media covering the events of the two immigrants’ sentencing and execution, Lippa “began to see how farcical the whole chain of events was. And I had always wanted to do something that examined how close farce and tragedy really are,” Lippa said. Then he thought of the names Sacco and Vanzetti and how much they sounded like a vaudeville team. “Vaudeville was the perfect metephor for this story in which comedy collapses into tragedy which collapses back into comedy.”

While there are some very funny and entertaining scenes in this play, this production has a powerful message about our country’s history. While the telling of the story is done in a very daring medium, director Daniel Chumley, actors Howard Swain (Sacco) and Robert Weinapple (Vanzetti) and musical director Frank Johnson shed new light on a historical tragedy that continues to plague our nation.

For tickets or more information call (415) 388-5208 or visit

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