PLAYS OF DARIO FO AND FRANCA RAME
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a] STAGE PLAYS
A Finger in the Eye (Il dito nell'occhio)
A revue in two acts by Franco Parenti, Dario Fo and Giustino Durano.
First production: Piccolo Teatro, Milan, June 1953 (dir. the authors).
A satirical history of the world in 21 sketches. In a blackout, an actor bangs his head against the wall and shouts `lights!' to represent the creation of the world. The construction of Cheops' pyramids is shown as a sacrifice of the lives of the slaves who built them. The Trojan horse is shown to be the idea of an unknown soldier, but Ulysses gets the credit. The battle between the Horatians and Curatians is presented as a baseball match, with a commentator announcing the deaths as home runs. A Christian is interrogated by the Roman police in a parody of the prosecution of the contemporary Italian film critic Guido Aristarco, and the Crusades are shown to be a colossal exercise in speculation. Napoleon and Nelson are two little boys squabbling, and the Renaissance originates from a play on words in an argument between two philosophers. The bourgeoisie of the Risorgimento are seen to use the same language and terminology as the post-war Christian Democrats' rhetoric against the Italian left. In the second part, there are satires of American films, sentimental Italian songs about mothers (parodying the recently-established San Remo song festival), post-war building speculation and the legacy of the Krupp family. The Americans attempt unsuccessfully to go to the moon, and an expedition climbing the Himalayas discovers Giulio Andreotti at the top. Finally, the actors take photos of the audience as if they were animals in a zoo.
'The secret to persuasion and entertainment lies in an ability to examine the reality before our eyes by putting a 'finger in the eye', or turning moral interpretations upside down.'
Programme note, 1953, quoted in Claudio Meldolesi, Su un comica in rivolta, p. 38.
'The importance, and the novelty, of A Finger in the Eye was the fact that it was the first critical revue in Italy, and that it pursued a satirical line that was rigorous rather than whimsical and frothy, in attacking certain aspects of our mores and particularly our culture. Its importance lay in presenting an anti-academic angle on areas dominated by the historical, cultural and social traditions of academicism.'
Morando Morandini, Sipario, June 1954, pp. 9-10.
'We didn't give it a precise label, but naturally it was soon referred to as cabaret. Its synthesis of situations, range of subject matter, fragmentary scenes and musical interludes were like cabaret, but we would prefer to call it revue or avanspettacolo (see below) which are the two theatrical genres which have developed in Italy in the absence of a cabaret tradition. Naturally we went beyond the normal notion of revue, which was notable for its lack of political commitment and an artificial linear unity. Our linear unity came from a satirical critique of every conceivable subject.'
Dario Fo, in Roberto Mazzucco, L'avventura del cabaret, 1976.
'Avanspettacolo: began in about 1930. A very popular performance genre consisting of brief sketches, songs and various acts. These shows, which lasted about an hour, were performed in the interval at film screenings.'
Dario Fo, Manuale minimo dell'attore, 1987, p. 327.
'Fo's first "serious" play ... was immediately referred to as an anti-revue. From the moment the curtain went up it was a shock for the audience. The innovation of its staging was so incredibly different from the sumptuous, overblown costumes and millionaire-type sets of normal revues. The acting was dominated by mime, pratfalls, and acrobatic leaps and bounds. Its content was non-conformist, and political satire that was intelligent rather than clumsy and trivial, made its first appearance on the postwar Italian stage.'
Chiara Valentini, La storia di Dario Fo, 1977, p. 39.
Fit to be Tied (I sani da legare)
A revue in two acts by Franco Parenti, Dario Fo and Giustino Durano
First production: Piccolo Teatro, Milan, 19 June 1954 (dir. the authors).
Twenty-four scenes about life in a big city from dawn until dusk, from the point of view of the underdogs: tramps, thieves, the unemployed, prisoners, factory workers and lovers. A sketch satirising newspapers' manipulation of public opinion shows a foreign correspondent working from his armchair at home. Rich society women organise works for charity to alleviate their boredom, but end up eating all the minestrone they have made for the local tramps. In `The Compromise', a dissident Soviet scientist asks his son to kill him as punishment for his deviation, and the director of the story, which is being filmed, appeals for the approval of the censors. A man applying for a factory job is subjected to a severe psychological test, and workers sing a song parodying the monotony of the production line. A worker on a bus has only a ten thousand lire note, which the conductor refuses to change; other workers on the bus club together to change the note, at which point the conductor offers to change the note and reimburse them. There are satires of film buffs and government initiatives to exploit illiteracy and the mass media.
'... A form of popular theatre ...a collective text ... almost surreal, recalling the late French decadent poets ... the language is freed by concrete representations which give a human value to some of the characters in situations which are synthetic (and at times overloaded).'
Salvatore Quasimodo, Tempo, 1 July, 1954.
'The authors have conceived and executed this revue with a new polemical and critical spirit which is aimed in various different directions. As well as specific targets of contemporary mores which the various scenes attack, there is an assault on revue itself, with its ostrich feathers and multi-million lire budgets .... the young authors of a play which is brilliantly integrated with Lecoq's mime and Carpi's music have something to say ... '
Roberto Rebora, Sipario, July 1954, p. 24.
'Left wing cant, already a dubious feature of A Finger in the Eye, becomes patent bad faith here, to the point of being cheeky.'
Nicola Chiaromonte, Il Mondo, 5 April 1955.
'On opening night, the Piccolo Teatro audience was scattered with police armed with scripts and torches, ruining their eyes checking that not a single line or word had escaped from the cuts ordered by the censor. '
Franca Rame, in Valentini, 1977, p. 48.
Thieves, Dummies and Naked Women (Ladri, manichini e donne nude)
Four one-act farces
First production: Piccolo Teatro, Milan, 6 June 1958 (dir. Fo). Bodies to be Despatched (sic) transmitted on RAI TV, 3 Feb. 1959, One Was Nude and One Wore Tails on 27 Feb. 1962, and Housepainters Have No Memories on 20 March 1962. The Virtuous Burglar revived at Teatro Leopardi, Rome, Oct. 1980 (dir. Marco Lucchesi). One was Nude and One Wore Tails and Housepainters Have No Memories revived at Teatro Filodrammatici, Milan, March 1990 (dir. Arturo Corso).
British production: The Virtuous Burglar at Mitchell Theatre, Glasgow, 1989, (trans. Joe Farrell, dir. Morag Fullerton).
American production: The Virtuous Burglar at Cubicolo, New York, August 1969 (trans. & dir. Maurice Edwards).
Australian productions: Bodies to be Despatched ... Flinders University, Adelaide, August 25, 1972 (dir. Bruno Ferraro), Every Burglar Has A Silver Lining (trans. Tim Fitzpatrick) Seymour Centre, Sydney, 1982.
The Virtuous Burglar is a 'pochade' about a burglar who is surprised in the act of robbing a house by the owner and his mistress. The burglar's wife rings him 'at work' and becomes jealous of the other woman. Then the owner's wife arrives with her lover, and in the ensuing complications the burglar manages to escape. One Was Nude and One Wore Tails is a 'musical farce' about an ambassador who is forced to flee when he is discovered by his mistress's husband, and is found naked in a street sweeper's cart. The street sweeper becomes involved in a complicated ploy to obtain a dinner suit for him, which he obtains from a flower-seller and ends up being treated with great respect. Housepainters Have No Memories is a 'clown farce' in which two housepainters arrive to decorate a brothel, where the madam's husband has been embalmed by his jealous wife. One of the housepainters receives the daily injection by mistake, and in the ensuing chaos the madam is also injected, leaving the three men to pair off with girls. In Women Undressed and Bodies to be Despatched, a 'thriller farce,' three woman kill their husbands, and despatch their bodies through the Italian postal service in parcels. As a result a transvestite detective investigates a woman theatre costumier who is running a divorce agency, which is a cover for a service for women to eliminate their unwanted husbands.
'I realised conclusively that all real theatre is theatre of situation. Every theatrical action arises from a situation on stage which is full of possibilities for developing the action. The dialogue is only one of the tools to express these developments. For example: a naked man hides in an empty street sweeper's cart. This is already a situation; when the street sweeper discovers him, an innumerable series of situations can develop from that first situation. Theatre based on autonomous dialogue developing action which doesn't express potential action isn't theatre, it's literature. Theatrical language is synthetic, and can't accommodate descriptive digressions about states of mind, unless the are part of the momentum one wishes to sustain.'
Fo, in Erminia Artese, Dario Fo parla di Dario Fo, 1977, p. 22.
'A taste for paradox, misunderstanding, absurdity and surrealism is expressed by making maximum use of stagecraft. Thus the often-expressed parallel between Fo's 'surrealism' and the Theatre of the Absurd (Ionesco and Adamov are most often cited) breaks down. ... The satirical barbs of the two earlier works have disappeared ... and the staging has moved from innovation to a naturalism with grotesque ramifications.'
Marina Cappa and Roberto Nepoli, Dario Fo, 1982, pp. 39-40.
'Fo and Ionesco both operate in a landscape which is, culturally and spiritually, far removed from the salons of Feydeau's Belle Epoque, but they are equally removed from one another. ... In his early pre-political farces, Fo ridicules the bourgeois characters because of the way they behave, because of the beliefs they hold, and because of discrepancies between the two. His outlook is limited to the here and now, presenting a world capable of improvement, and therefore one in which optimism and hope have meaning ... He undermines the "normality" of the bourgeois order but always in the name of an alternative order. In this sense, Fo is the distorted mirror image of Feydeau; where Feydeau asserts that all is well, Fo replies that all could be made well.'
Joseph Farrell, 'Fo and Feydeau: Is Farce a Laughing Matter?' 1995, p. 318.
Comic Finale (Comica finale)
Four one-act farces
First production: Teatro Stabile, Turin, 10 Dec. 1958 (dir. Fo & Gian Franco De Bosio). Corpse for Sale transmitted on RAI TV, 20 Feb. 1962, and Marcolfa on 6 March 1962
British production: Corpse for Sale, Derby Playhouse, Apr.1986 (trans. Ed Emery, dir. Claire Grove)
North American productions: Marcolfa at Cubicolo Theatre, New York, August 1969, Corpse for Sale at New Theatre '83, University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, 15 June, 1983 (trans. Walter Temelini).
In When You're Poor You'll Be King, based on the carnival 'feast of fools', a group of strolling players dissuade an old man from his belief that he will become king if he squanders all his money and becomes a pauper. Marcolfa updates an archetypical character similar to Commedia dell'Arte figures, who is the mother of the deceptively wise fool Bertoldo. She becomes a servant who is courted by everyone in an aristocratic household after she wins the lottery, but opts for her good-for-nothing fiancé. In Corpse for Sale, some card sharks kill a simpleton after he beats them at cards, and then discover that he is a dangerous criminal. The dead man revives and marries the landlord's daughter. The Three Suitors revolves around a misunderstanding between three daughters of a wealthy landowner and three `ghostbusters' he employs to rid his castle of evil spirits, whom the daughters mistake for suitors.
'Fo has revived a comic vitality which has almost become extinct and retraced its origins, finding clear historical links with contemporary society. He has used the scenarios ... performed by one of the most outstanding 19th century comic family troupes, the Rame family of Piedmont ... He has retained the essential aspects ... but embellished them with a completely new succession of situations, extending and multiplying the surprises ... with a completely modern freedom of invention.'
Giorgio Guazzotti, Il Dramma, Nov. 1958, p. 59.
'Because of this unusual mixture of popular and high cultural elements, and an attempt to combine the refined lessons of mime and the French avant-garde with the gags of the 19th century guitti, the lazzi (see below) of the Commedia dell'Arte, circus tricks and Brechtian anti-naturalism into a single theatrical form, the critics found themselves in a dilemma: were Dario Fo's plays vaudeville, pochades, a new kind of revue, or avant-garde theatre? Probably this confusion was the greatest strength and popularity of a type of theatre which had too much vitality to be easily labelled.'
Valentini, 1977, p. 60.
'Guitto: actor from a travelling theatre company of the lowest order, the so-called `mountain climbers'. An expression used pejoratively to describe an actor who performs without care or discrimination, without taking any care over make-up or costumes.'
Fo, Manuale minimo dell'attore,1987, p. 337.
'Lazzi: The most ancient form of "improvisation". The scenarios of the Commedia dell'Arte are literally crammed with the expression "lazzi" or "lazzo'". It means a comic device, either mimed or verbal, which is almost never described. The way in which the scenarios developed was never written down in order to pass on the various theatrical devices to others who did not belong to the companies. For the actors in the Commedia companies they served exclusively as memos, and they preferred to keep the development of the comic details and grotesque devices to themselves, virtually secret.'
As above, p. 338.
'Political commitment took a back seat for a while. These plays were primarily devices to make people laugh, although a populist subtext was already detectable; a popular nose-thumbing at the rich and powerful.'
Gian Franco De Bosio, in Valentini, p. 59.
Archangels Don't Play Pinball (Gli arcangeli non giocano al flipper)
Three-act play, partly based on a short story by Augusto Frassineti
First production: Teatro Odeon, Milan, 11 Sept. 1959 (dir. Fo)
British productions: BBC Radio 3, May 1986 (Adapt. & dir. James Runcie, trans. R.C. McAvoy & A.M. Giugni). Bristol Old Vic, 10 Sept., 1986 (trans. McAvoy & Giugni, dir. Glen Walford).
US production: American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, Mass., 5 Jun. 1987 (trans. Ron Jenkins, dir. Fo & Rame). Dad's Garage Theatre, Atlanta, Georgia, 1 May, 1998 (dir. Brian Griffin).
Australian production: University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2 Sept. 1986 (trans. & dir. Tony Mitchell).
A group of young Milanese petty criminals play a trick on one of their number, Stretch, a modern version of the clever fool Bertoldo, and marry him off to a fake Albanian beauty (who is actually a prostitute) in a mock marriage ceremony. Stretch then tries to get his identity papers in order so that he can draw a disability pension, only to find that he has been registered as a hunting dog, a bureaucratic error he can only rectify by going to a kennel and posing as a dog. The play follows his attempts to extricate himself from the desperate demi-monde of pranks and petty crime, get his papers in order, and find an identity for himself. This includes impersonating a politician whose trousers he steals on a train, and re-encountering the prostitute, who is posing as the politician's wife. At the end, he discovers everything has been a dream, although not manipulated as he thought by the archangels in a game of human pinball.
'If it weren't for the liberal dose of madness he possesses, Fo would be a preacher, a moralist. Luckily for him (and us) he is a preaching clown. Farce represents a tool of moral corrosiveness for him, which by its very nature provides a pretext for escapism and paradoxical exercises ... But here all the congenial acrobatics of farce are rediscovered, along with some pointed references to reality.'
Ghigo De Chiara, Sipario, Sept. 1959, p. 37.
'The play contains two clearly heterogeneous elements: the nucleus comes from a Frassineti story with its typical fantastical-satirical romantic humour. Bureaucracy becomes a symbol of modern technocracy and its oppressive hierarchy is mocked. The combination of Fo and Frassineti in the second act results in the most evocative and distinctive moments of the play, embodied in exhilaratingly crazy set pieces in which Fo reveals his ability to turn contemporary reality upside down and reveal its underbelly. The rest of the play is made up of witty comic turns which are artfully sustained by his brio. '
Vito Pandolfi, Storia del teatro drammatico, 1962.
'Genial but toothless ... What Fo is doing is clear: drawing on popular Italian culture, including the Harlequin and Columbine story while at the same time aiming a few swipes at the chicanery, corruption, nepotism and time-wasting form-filling of his native land. But Fo's good nature swamps the social and political protest.'
Michael Billington, The Guardian, 17 Sept. 1986.
'A collector's item ... though it is not explicitly political ... instead of satirising actual cases of terrorism or police corruption, Archangels offers a generalised farcical world of haves and have-nots ... It is a wonderful piece of theatrical legerdemain and also a defiant gesture in which you can read the future author of Can't Pay, Won't Pay. '
Irving Wardle, The Times, 21 Sept. 1986.
'Technically it is a quick-moving farce which draws on some of the classic situations of the French tradition of Labiche and Feydeau, with bedroom confusions and pompous officialdoms. Its use of the transformation of the hero into an animal looks further back to the literature of the Roman Empire - to the story of Apuleius and his golden ass, who suffered the same fate. The intervention of the archangels at the end is an irresistible reminder of the deus ex machina of classical theatre and an interesting parallel to the part played by the gods in Brecht's Good Person of Szechwan ... The social provenance of the characters is also unusual. The young men in what one might call their 'real life' sequences - for the bulk of the play is a dream - are youths from the sub-proletariat who recall the wide boys Pasolini describes in his novels set in the working-class suburbs of Rome. Their butt is Lofty, a simple young man who describes himself as "the Rigoletto of the poor" - as, in fact, a giullare (see below), the innocent who by his literal reading of situations reveals them in all their absurdity.'
Stuart Hood, `Introduction' to Fo, Archangels Don't Play Pinball, Methuen, 1987, pp. xiv-xv.
'giullare: Medieval actor, acrobat and juggler of distinctly popular origins. The giullari performed in taverns, piazzas, courtyards and were often invited into the courts of the gentry and princes. On special occasions they also performed in churches.'
Fo, Manuale, p. 336.
'Archangels might be called an expressionist farce. ... This loose framework supports a diverse collection of one-line sallies at political targets; Fo has updated these to include television evangelists, stranded garbage barges, and current politicians, especially during an extended monologue ... played to a cardboard cutout of the President. Fo's style is unabashedly theatrical, full of song, slapstick, and vaudeville turns. But politics always lurks behind the tomfoolery ... a curious blend of sensibilities, somewhere between 1950s Italy and 1980s America. The references are contemporary, and Tiny's plight of getting lost in a world out of control becomes more relevant with each passing year. But the flavor of an older, less jaded European world lingers in the music, in the character of the good-hearted prostitute ... and in Tiny's innocence. These diverse moods unite easily in the play's carnival atmosphere (there is even a live dog on stage). Fo's ability to juggle multifarious elements - farcical and political, Italian and American, new and old - may be his most effective tool for portraying our chaotic world.'
Sam Abel, Theatre Journal, Dec. 1987, p.504.
He Had Two Pistols with White and Black Eyes (Aveva due pistole con gli occhi bianchi e neri)
First production: Teatro Odeon, Milan, 2 Sept. 1960 (dir. Fo).
British production: Sherman Centre, Cardiff, 1985 (as Two Pistols, trans. Katy Dimoke).
'An (allegedly false) victim of amnesia is in a psychiatric institution, dressed in a priest's cassock. He meets Luisa, who recognises him as her old lover who has gone to the war, and takes him home with her. The amnesiac does not recognise either the home or the lifestyle the woman explains were his; instead of the harsh and arrogant man she expected, he is docile and full of remorse for the past. Meanwhile the real "gent", the roguish Giovanni Gallina, returns; the other man is merely his double. There is a series of misunderstandings and mistaken identities, until the crook discovers the confusion and decided to hold the amnesiac priest prisoner. Giovanni resumes his life of crime, flees from a police ambush and appears to have caused the death of his double at the hands of the police, who think he is Gallina. He organises a thieves' strike, demanding a percentage of the advantages which upstanding members of the community (insurance companies, dog trainers, crime reporters ... ) gain from their thefts. Luisa discovers that the co-ordinator of the strike is not Giovanni (as the gang of thieves had assumed) but the amnesiac. He is about to be arrested for impersonating a priest when he is recognised by the director of a prison rehabilitation centre as his beloved Don Filippo.'
Cappa & Nepoli, pp. 49-50.
'Its intentions are very clear but not fully realised, and the play becomes stodgy and monotonous at times where it could have been fast and entertaining ... The transformation ... of the priest ... has not been followed through by Fo with sufficient attention to detail ... Fo's favourite gags, although amusing, are too dominant, fragment the dialogue and prevent any real development of the characters and events ... Nonetheless highly enjoyable and at times irresistible.'
Roberto Rebora, Sipario, Oct. 1960, p. 25.
'... Resembles Brecht's Threepenny Opera which had just been staged by Strehler at the Piccolo Teatro, and is a kind of gangster story, a black comedy based on an exchange of personalities - a fascist bandit and a Christian Democrat priest ... The jibes at authority were clear from the moment the curtain went up ...'
Valentini, pp. 70-71.
He Who Steals a Foot is Lucky in Love (Chi ruba un piede è fortunato in amore)
First production: Teatro Odeon, Milan, 8 Sept. 1961 (dir. Fo). Revived at Teatro Belli, Rome, 25 Jan. 1987 (dir. Antonio Salines).
British production: Channel 5 Theatre, Glasgow, 11 Aug. 1983 (trans. Helen Russell).
'A thief (Apollo) and aspiring taxi driver steals the foot of a statue of Mercury from a museum with an accomplice, and buries it in the ground where a construction company is building, in order to blackmail the owner of the firm. The fraud is successful - the two thieves disguise themselves as archaeologists and turn up at the construction company. They are given three million lire to keep quiet and not obstruct the works. Apollo buys a taxi, and meets the wife of the boss of the construction company (Daphne ...) She offers him money to pretend that he has been involved in a car accident with her, in order to hide a nose operation from her husband. When he arrives home, the building contractor does not recognise the fake archaeologist, but assumes he is having an affair with Daphne - permissible in their social class. A series of misunderstandings culminates in the arrival of a doctor, who pronounces that the woman is suffering from a mortal illness which is curable by continuous blood transfusions between her and the taxi driver, who is the only person with the same blood group. This "medical" union between them ... continues ... because Apollo pretends to be pregnant with Daphne's child. The husband ... demands a divorce, and the love story ... is interrupted by her escape (since happiness is impossible between people of such different social classes). She is substituted with the mythical plant (Daphne, or laurel), which Apollo embraces affectionately.'
Cappa & Nepoli, p.52.
'... A collection of little inventions - stealing the foot and planting it on the two building speculators is more of an apology, really. In a sense it is the play that comes closest to our `revues', because the main thread of the story is very thin - a pretext for a series of barbs against the authorities of the time.'
Fo, in Artese, p. 46.
'Fo returns to one of his starting points, the fabulatori. Consequently the protagonist of this new play is an emigrant from the south of Italy who represents a different culture from the sophisticated bourgeois environment of the play. ... The plot is a reworking of the classical myth of Daphnis and Chloe. Formally, it is partly a farce for clowns, and partly a bedroom farce ... It is the only play of Fo's not to use songs, and comes closest to a traditional comic form.'
Bent Holm, The World Turned Upside Down: Dario Fo and the Popular Imagination, Stockholm, 1980, pp. 71-72.
Isabella, Three Sailing Ships and a Con Man (Isabella, tre caravelle e un cacciaballe)
First production: Teatro Odeon, Milan, 6 Sept. 1963 (dir. Fo). TV version: transmitted on RAI 2, 11 & 13 May, 1977. Revived at the Centro Dramatico Nacional, Valencia, 1992 (dir. Fo).
'An actor (is) condemned to death for acting in a play by Rojas which has been banned. At the gallows he is allowed to perform the story of Christopher Columbus, which he drags out as long as he can in the hope that a pardon will arrive. This does not eventuate, however, and in the end he loses his head. The play about Columbus presents the Genovese hero as an obsessive, wily individual, pitting his wits against Isabella, Filippo, Giovanna the madwoman, the (Spanish) court, sailing ships, enemies, a trial, and eventual obscurity, a consequence of the fact that cunning and unscrupulousness (even to honourable ends) is not enough if the powers that be are not on your side.'
Roberto Rebora, Sipario, Oct. 1963, p. 28.
'... The theatrical language is becoming more developed, the stagecraft is embellished with complex theatrical machinery, and the dialogue more streamlined and based on thematic concepts rather than isolated gags. The results are remarkable, indicating that Fo is exploring a less gratuitous and more committed use of theatrical forms. The text of the play is less provisional than usual, and tends to lose the function of a summarising scenario which is secondary to the performance, and assume an autonomy of its own as a piece of writing. The play deserves to be considered as central to Fo's work, as a "watershed" between the typically "farcical" output and his later plays.'
Lanfranco Binni, Dario Fo, 1977, pp. 31-32.
'Fo's most Brechtian play, in its attempt to reconstruct a character, Columbus, who symbolises a particular epoch and mentality, in its use of songs which do not merely provide support for the action but function as commentary, and for the careful historical research which lay behind the plot.'
Valentini, p. 85.
Seventh Commandment:Thou Shalt Steal a Bit Less (Settimo: ruba un po' meno)
First production:Teatro Odeon, Milan, 4 Sept. 1964 (dir. Fo). TV version: RAI 2, 6 May, 1977.
Australian production: University of Queensland, 1973, (trans. T. Schonell).
Enea, a female gravedigger, is persuaded by her colleagues in a practical joke that the cemetery where she works is being demolished by building speculators. She is then convinced she should pursue a vocation as a prostitute, and witnesses a clash between police and striking workers, in which she sympathises with the police. She encounters a victim of 'coffin mania' who wants to rent a coffin, and discovers that the owner of the cemetery is in fact planning to sell it to speculators. Enea disguises herself as a nun, and infiltrates a mental asylum to obtain compromising documents with which to blackmail people in positions of authority. There she again meets the 'coffin maniac', who promises to help her expose corruption in high places. But in the end, in order to prevent a scandal that would be 'worse than an atomic bomb,' everyone is subjected to brainwashing with a trephine, except for Enea, who vows to 'go back where she came from.'
'The social satire is more open and direct than in the other plays. Behind the plot and its twists and turns is the most rampant and astonishing building speculation and the impetus of recurrent scandals in Italian politics. ... the bitterness and cruelty are dispersed rather than submerged by the breadth and complexity of imagination which as always in Fo's plays manifests itself in the action and develops continuously without allowing the audience any respite.'
Franco Vegliani, Sipario, Aug.-Sept. 1964, p. 39.
' A successful synthesis of all the "values" of (Fo's) theatre: an almost perfectly balanced farcical mechanism, comic poise and clever mime, ironic impulse and satirical flights of fancy ... achieving by its continual and inexorable inventiveness a kind of "chain reaction" which appears to be governed by a rigorous necessity ... lively, bold and generous ... the language is both popular, due to the presence of dialect, and highly proficient in its cultured comic effects (puns, assonance, etc.).'
Arturo Lazzari, L'Unità, 5 Sept. 1964.
'There are two main starting points; a cemetery about to be demolished because a group of speculators have bought up all the buildings around it and want to remove the unpleasant view for their tenants, and a bank vault in a psychiatric institution run by nuns who subject the patients to electroshock therapy twice a day. The nuns also make them vote for the Christian Democrats and teach them "current beliefs" like telling jokes about unimportant ministers and even priests can calm their nerves, that they may talk about prices and taxes being too high, but that going on strike is wrong because it makes the pope angry, that (the state) sends all its petty cash off to Switzerland, finances foreign companies who don't pay taxes, but is good because it provides work. In the farce that develops around these two basic ideas we put in as many references to corruption as possible. A female character provides the central thread of the story: the play is dedicated to Franca.'
Fo, in Artese, p. 47.
'... The cemetery could be seen ... from the point of view of popular mythology as the "world of the dead." In realistic terms, the psychiatric hospital alludes to scandals and corruption in the public sector, symbolically it is a political and satirical image of official society, and from the point of view of popular mythology it is the world of the mad, the universe of demons, where constitutional order is turned upside down in an anarchic, carnivalesque universe.'
Bent Holm, p. 223.
Always Blame the Devil (La colpa è sempre del diavolo)
First production: Teatro Odeon, Milan, 10 Sept. 1965 (dir. Fo).
Set at the end of the 13th century, the play is about Amalasunta, a female charlatan who is unjustly accused of being a witch, and decides to become one as a result. She enlists the aid of Brancaleone, a devil-dwarf, and when she is employed for her magical powers in the court of a Duke, he becomes a kind of incubus to her. They both plot to assassinate the Duke, and after they are successful, the Duke's body is made into a marionette by a wizard in order to prevent the people from revolting. But Brancaleone gets inside the body and persuades the members of the Cathar commune to instigate a revolution, so that they will then be killed by the imperial forces, which are about to arrive. As a result Brancaleone becomes the new Duke.
'... A farce which brings invisible devils and false witches on to the stage, and manages to attack Catholicism as an instrument of power without resorting to parables. the authorities claim that the Gospels are too abrasive to be put into practise and that they are dangerous, because if they were applied they would abolish all their privileges. Some of the songs in the play are based on heretical songs of the time. Clearly we had to expand the boundaries of farce to attack the clergy and religion of the 1960s ... Unlike Mistero buffo it is not a giullarata, or a reconstruction of medieval texts, but a totally invented story in a farcical vein, which takes advantage of its medieval setting to tell a few truths about Catholicism.'
Fo, in Artese, p. 49.
'Provides particular evidence of a contradiction between conflicting interests in Fo's "poetics": on the one hand an unmistakable tendency towards farce, with explicit connections with the tradition of Italian comedy and avanspettacolo, and on the other a need to develop a complex argument in theatrical form which gets its motivation from farce and makes it into a weapon of theatrical discourse. This amounts to a need for a deeper theoretical base in theatre, and stronger links with cultural and political reality which the less passive sections of the audience were experiencing more and more intensely.'
Binni, 1977, p. 3.
'... Almost too rich in inventiveness and somewhat underdeveloped satirical sallies. At the politico-historical kernel of the play is the struggle between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Cathars, the communitarian and evangelic sect wiped out for heresy in the late thirteenth century ... the allegory is obvious. The Cathar communards stand for the Italian communists, the Imperial forces represent the USA which, at the time, was stepping out of its commitment in Vietnam. An interesting pointer to the later Fo is his attempt here to disinter authentically revolutionary episodes from the history of popular culture, especially those involving pre-reformation evangelical religion, which challenges the corrupt and reactionary orthodoxy for an, as it were, left wing point of view.'
Lino Pertile, 'Dario Fo', 1984, p. 174.
Dump the Lady (La signora è da buttare)
First production: Teatro Manzoni, Milan, 15 Sept. 1967 (dir. Fo). TV version, RAI 2, 9 & 11 Nov. 1976.
A clown show satirising America, personified by 'the Lady', and presented as a battle between two rival circuses. A religious ceremony centred on a refrigerator opens the show, which is a series of disconnected sketches which were updated and changed for the 1976 TV version of the play. The Lady is succeeded by the Bride, who is assassinated at Dallas. 'Clown Dario' conducts a torturous ballistic test tracing the trajectory of the bullet that has killed her, which has hit a stray dog, a chauffeur and an ice cream van on its way to its target. There is a trial investigating the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, and an inquest into the murder of a black man, interspersed with circus acts such as peeping-tom clowns and a flea trainer who has to have his fleas removed from his appendix. In another sketch, unborn children are conscripted into the army, and their mothers sent to Vietnam, where orders are transmitted by telephone into the mothers' stomachs. Fo also added a celebrated sketch in which he plays Saint George as a dwarf, riding a three-metre-high dragon which symbolised imperialism.
'... A highly proficient clown show, in which the circus device assumes a complex technical, aesthetic and narrative function ... he has avoided giving his clowns poetic, symbolic or metatheatrical significance, as playwrights and directors who draw on circus devices often do ... This clown show becomes political theatre, preserving a balance which only rarely topples (at times in the second act it lapses into didacticism) ... For the freshness of its invention, its sense of pace and timing ... its use of "distanced" farcical and grotesque devices, and especially for its biting references to social and political issues, it recalls the far-off days of A Finger in the Eye, although it is undoubtedly superior, more mature, polished and assured ...'
Arturo Lazzari, L'Unità, 16 Sept. 1967.
'... There were real clowns in it - the Colombaioni (Alberto, Charlie and Romano, and Alberto's wife, an acrobat) - and I had to employ various effects and breakneck acrobatic tricks, explosions, trapeze acts, walking on springy stilts, and falling vertically into a dustbin. The Colombaioni know how to perform these to perfection, and taught us a lot of other tricks which weren't in the script. I've learned almost everything I know of and about clowns from them, including how to play the trombone. Franca learned how to work on a trapeze and do falls, hanging from her feet with her legs crossed. Because of the vast range and complexity of techniques that a clown has to acquire, it could be said that an actor who picks up this technical know-how is at an enormous advantage ... not only in comic roles, but - and I can see the "armchair" thheatre critics shuddering in horror at this - in tragic roles too ... The clown goes back a very long way: clowns existed before the origins of the Commedia dell'Arte. It could be said that the Italian Commedia masks were born from an obscene marriage of female jongleuses, fabulatori and clowns, and then after incestuous relationships, commedia gave birth to scores of other clowns.'
Fo, Manuale p. 256.
Grand Pantomime with Flags and Small and Middle-Sized Puppets (Grande pantomima con bandiere e pupazzi piccoli e medi)
First production: Nuova Scena at Camera di Lavoro, Sala Di Vittorio, Milan, Autumn 1968 (dir. Fo). Revised version entitled Death and Resurrection of a Puppet performed by La Comune, Capannone di via Colletta, 4 Dec. 1971 (dir. Fo).
A giant puppet representing fascism gives birth to a King and Queen, Capital, the Bourgeoisie, a General, a Bishop, and the Confederation of Industry. These allegorical figures combat the revolt of the people, represented by an enormous Chinese dragon. A bourgeois Dolly Girl seduces the leader of the Rebels, who succumb to a Wizard who sells them football and advertising as a means of letting off their steam. A television director, trying to make a powerful documentary about the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, inserts some stock footage from Vietnam. Prospective factory employees are subjected to a psychological and political interrogation, and then trained for an assembly line by a ballet teacher. The Minister of the Interior is wrongly arrested when he becomes entangled in a student demonstration during an amorous rendezvous. The play ends with a song by Mikis Theodorakis celebrating 'the youth of the month of May' . In Death and Resurrection of a Puppet , a later version of the same play, Fo, wearing a mask, played PCI leader Palmiro Togliatti, whose policies were contrasted with those of Lenin and Mao, represented by puppets. The play attacked the revisionism of the PCI, American imperialism, and right-wing terrorism.
'Not his best play, but more than any other play it justifies its existence through its rapport with its audience ... He is aware of the dangers of didacticism ... and has attempted, often successfully, to dress his arguments up in theatrical inventiveness.'
Ettore Capriolo, Sipario, Jan. 1969, pp. 43-44.
'.. A political satire of the past quarter of a century of Italian history. It dealt with the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, which was conveyed primarily through the use of puppets that the actors moved about on the stage or manipulated with strings or sticks in full view of the audience. The manipulation of puppets by warring political factions became a vivid stage metaphor. The continual presence of the monstrous puppet on stage served as a sinister reminder of the omnipresence of political oppression ... Many of the masks were based on those of the Roman comedy and the Commedia dell'arte. The puppets resembled George Grosz cartoons but lacked their horror. Despite the seriousness of the theme, Fo's productions retain the surface charm and magic of children's theatre.'
Sogliuzzo, 1972, pp. 75-76.
'When we got involved with ARCI, it was in the hope that the spirit of 1968 was moving things in a new direction, even though we were well aware of what cooperatives involved, and who was behind the case del popolo [Communist party (PCI) community centres], and in whose interest they were. We had the illusion that working on a grass roots level, we could change the organisational structures, and that the PCI had adopted a revolutionary line as a result of the pressure of the student and workers' movements. We saw it as the only possible solution, the only representative of the working class.'
Fo, `Per una nuova gestione degli spazi e degli spettacoli,' 1976, in Franco Quadri, Il teatro del regime, p. 143.
'Full, perhaps too full, of things left unsaid for many years, lines cut by the censor or self-censored. The play has a wildly comic structure, using a number of elements from popular theatre (masks and Sicilian puppets adapted to a similar theatrical use to what the Bread and Puppet Theatre were doing at the same time in the USA) in an epic set-up, aspects of which recall Brecht's didactic plays ... It deals with Italy from the Resistance to the consumer society, the transformation of the ruling class, and the continuation of many elements of fascism into the new society.'
Valentini, p. 12.
'If, in the simplistic dialectical interplay the play uses, Togliatti is the thesis, Mao the antithesis, and the victorious dragon the synthesis ... polemic against the party has taken Fo to such an extreme that he doesn't realise the shifting sands he is getting into ... And it is a pity, because his power as a popular author and actor comes through even in this play.'
Edoardo Fadini, Rinascita, 14 Jan. 1972.
'Death and Resurrection of a Puppet attacked revisionism in an unintelligent way ... on an ideological level, and ... stopped at a point of destruction without indicating any constructive way ahead or signs of political re-organisation ... enabling revisionists to attack us as anti-communist, and this falsehood gained a certain degree of credibility on a mass level. We took this experience into account in Law and Order for God and Money's Sake, where the attack on revisionism was much clearer but less frontal and more deep-seated ...'
Document released by La Comune, Sept. 1972, quoted in Artese, pp. 131-132.
'Grand pantomime was revived in the 1971-72 season with a lot of revisions, since we realised that it couldn't remain unchanged after 1969 and its struggles for workers' contracts, the "hot autumn" with its wave of workers' and students' struggles, and the "state massacres". The script of the second edition of the play was discussed in an analytical meeting at which the main workers' nuclei of the vanguard of various factories in Milan were present, and there was a second analysis after the first rehearsal ... There were also puppets of Marcos and Joe Mo' (Stalin). They appeared on the stage of a little theatre where their arguments took place. The little theatre was used to distance these leaders of the people, who were symbols of different ways of conceptualising relations with the proletariat. ... the history of the years 1943 to 1972 was reconstructed from the point of view of proletarian struggles and every part of the play was viewed from this perspective ... To extend the job of writing a play to a collective means accepting an idea of theatre and its political function which is substantially different from plays by playwrights ...'
Fo, in Artese, pp. 129-134.
A 'giullarata popolare' in 15th century Padano dialect.
First production: Sestri Levanti, 1 Oct. 1969 (dir. Fo). TV version transmitted on RAI 2, 22 & 29 Apr., 18 & 25 Nov. 1977, and on RAI 2 in 1991. Revived in March 1993 by Coop. Aquarius at Teatro dell'Aquario, Cosenza (dir. Claudio Russo, perf. Antonio Venturino).
British productions: Puppet versions trans. & dir. Malcolm Knight, Maskot Puppet Theatre, Glasgow, 15 Aug. 1983. 1982 Theatre Company at the Half Moon Theatre, London, Feb. 1984 (trans. Ed Emery). Borderline Theatre, Glasgow and on tour, Jan.- Feb. 1990 (trans. Ed Emery, dir. Morag Fullerton, perf. Robbie Coltrane). Fo performed Mistero buffo at the Riverside Studios, London, 26 April 1983, and in the USA in May & June, 1986 (first perf. at the American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, Mass., May 1986), and at the National Theatre, London, January 1991.
US production: American Repertory Theatre Institute, Cambridge, Mass., Spring 1998 (dir. François Rochaix).
Australian productions: Adelaide University, 17 Sept. 1987 (trans. & dir. Antonio Comin). The Fringe Club, Adelaide, 2 Mar. 1988 (trans. Ed Emery, dir. and perf. Leonard Kovner).
A series of one-person performance pieces based on Medieval texts originally performed by the giullari. The Hymn of the Flagellants opens a series of pieces of varying lengths which include The Drunkard (later called The Marriage at Cana). A drunken guest present at Christ's miracle of the changing of water into wine recounts the story from a highly Dionysian, irreverent point of view, after chasing away an angel who is trying to tell the official version of the story. In The Slaughter of the Innocents a mad woman has substituted a sheep for her dead baby. She is accosted by a Roman soldier who takes it for a real baby, and then tells her story to the Madonna, who unsuccessfully attempts to console her. In The Resurrection of Lazarus, Christ's miracle is narrated by 15 different characters in the crowd waiting for the miracle. When it finally occurs, people are sprayed with maggots as Lazarus revives, and the final narrator has his pocket picked in mid-sentence. Boniface VIII dresses up in all his papal finery, ordering his altar boys around in a display of fascistic arrogance and vanity. He encounters Christ, who refuses to recognise or acknowledge him as a pope, and finally gives him a series of invisible kicks in the backside for his decadence and corruption. The two protagonists of The Morality Play of the Blind Man and the Cripple join forces in an attempt at self-sufficiency, the cripple riding on the blind man's back. They attempt unsuccessfully to avoid being 'miracled' by Christ, which will involve having to work and be exploited by a master. The Birth of the Villeyn relates the creation of a peasant-serf 'from an ass's fart', so that the master can have someone to do his dirty work. The master then proceeds to give the serf religious instruction, teaching him that he is a vulgar, menial and repellent creature, who nonetheless has an eternal soul which will bring him joy and fulfilment in the hereafter. An Angel calls the master's bluff and sows the seeds of a peasants' revolt. There are also four Texts from the Passion, starting with Death and the Madman, in which a madman draws the tarot card of death in an inn where Christ and the apostles are staying. A female figure of Death arrives, and the Madman seduces her away from her duty. In Mary Comes to Know of her Son's Sentence, the Virgin Mary's friends conceal her son's death from her, but she sees the imprint of his face on Veronica's shroud. In The Madman beneath the Cross, the protagonist watches the Roman soldiers betting on how many blows it will take to nail Christ up to the cross. He then offers the thirty pieces of silver Judas has thrown away in return for Christ's body. In Mary's Passion at the Cross, Mary tries to bargain with the Roman soldiers for her son's body, and is unconvinced by the Archangel Gabriel's attempts to explain the importance of the Crucifixion. In later performances, Fo added Fresh Fragrant Rose, a discourse on the way popular erotic poetry was censored by clerics and bourgeois scholars and transformed into 'high culture' as courtly love poetr. Zanni's Grammelot [see below], is about a starving peasant who is so hungry he imagines eating himself, then dreams of having a Gargantuan meal. He awakes to find himself still hungry, and catches and eats a fly. The Birth of the Jongleur is the story of a peasant whose wife is raped by a greedy landowner who also confiscates his land. About to hang himself, the peasant is visited by Christ, who makes him into a giullare, giving him 'a new language which will cut like a knife.' Three other Grammelots deal with an English Lawyer who saves a nobleman's skin in a rape case by proving that the peasant girl he raped exerted her seductive powers on him. An American Technocrat presents a potted history of aviation from the Wright brothers to space travel. Scapino's Grammelot contains instructions to an actor about how to impersonate French nobility. All the pieces are preceded by explanatory Prologues which are often considerably longer than the pieces themselves.
'Grammelot: onomatopoeic patter used to imitate foreign languages and exotic dialects.'
Fo, Manuale, p. 337.
'There are no references to Mayakovsky - perhaps Fo is merely being coquettish in giving this title to his latest play, in which he is the sole and absolute protagonist ... the didactic aspect, which uses slides of old woodcuts and etchings, is unable to get rid of vestiges of paternalism, although Fo communicates with his audience with an enormously congenial charge ... rather than the lecture on the conditions of the lower classes, using poetry and Medieval theatre, that it undoubtedly is, ... it is a lecture on the theatre: everything that Fo shows and tells us is a representation of the main aspects of a popular theatre which has faded away or been lost in time, and which Fo unearths for us by way of contemporary analogy.'
Arturo Lazzari, L'Unità, 4 Oct. 1969.
'Mistero (Mystery) is the term used since the second and third centuries AD to describe a sacred spectacle or performance. Even today in the Mass we hear the priest announce "In the first glorious mystery ... In the second mystery ..." and so on. So Mistero means a sacred performance, and Mistero buffo means a grotesque spectacle.'
Fo, Mistero buffo, p. 9.
'The inventors of the mistero buffo were the people. From the first centuries after Christ the people entertained themselves - although it was not merely a form of entertainment - by putting on and performing in spectacles of an ironic and grotesque nature. As far as the people were concerned, the theatre, and particularly the theatre of the grotesque, had always been their chief means of expression and communication, as well as putting across ideas by means of provocation and agitation. The theatre was the people's spoken, dramatised newspaper.'
Fo, Mistero buffo, p. 9.
'The kind of relationship with his audience that Fo is attempting to establish in Mistero buffo is that between the giullare and the peasants. Fo operates continually a the double register of Medieval satirical, entertaining and abrasive portrayals which are "buffo" in the jongleuresque sense of the term, and his analogous references to present day reality. As a result he never loses sight of the ultimate aim of the performance ... to raise his audience's consciousness of the repressiveness of the capitalist system ... His shifts from one register to the other are by no means mechanical, but have a remarkable comic and political alienation effect, which is perhaps the best way of interpreting the success and incisiveness of Mistero buffo.'
Mauro Ponzi, Rinascita, 28 May 1976, p. 43.
'... Unilaterally violates fundamental religious values shared by many citizens ... a clear violation of reforms which provided for pluralism, but also mutual respect ... This programme reminds one of the book-burning of the Nazis, or the fascist attacks on the Vatican newspaper offices and the members of "Catholic Action".'
Mauro Bubbico, MP and head of Government Media Watch Committee, 1977, quoted in Fabrizio Carbone, Proibito in tv, 1985.
'His one man show is the opposite of a personal exhibition. Certainly Fo is here, in his everyday clothes, apparently without any accessories (nothing in his hands, nothing in his pockets, and only a microphone around his neck is visible) on a bare stage, where spectators even sit on the floor. But he is not revealing himself. He is there to perform and show us other people. ... In renouncing any concern with revealing himself and in seeking refuge in characters, Fo is able to compensate for a refusal to be histrionic with another form of histrionics: his virtuosity and his ubiquity. ... Fo is able to play on the timing and the astonishment of metamorphoses. And that is where his commentaries come in ... In relation to Brechtian epic theatre, Walter Benjamin talks about the "interrupted act" and the "gestus of quotation". This can be applied here to the letter. Fo engages in continual interruptions. His gestures are abruptly suspended. He observes them, comments on them, laughs at them, repeats them or extends them ... Through his uncompleted gestures, suspended as it were between past and present, and his words which call up these gestures but are never completely resolved in them, Fo not only appeals to the spectators' imaginations; he activates the spectators. He obliges them to "accommodate" him continually, to multiply their perspectives and points of view. He engages them in debate.'
Bernard Dort, Thèâtre en jeu 1970-1976, Editions du Seuil, 1977, pp. 207, 208, 210-211.
'All the greater pity, then, that on this occasion Dario Fo has kept to the relatively safe ground of religious satire. In Italy, naturally this reaches into everyone's life. But when we in England (or most of us at least) laugh at the Pope, our fun comes easily - we have nothing to lose ... Italian society has for a sort of shadow, or unconscious structure, all the ceremony, hierarchy and mysticism of the Church. Without this all-pervading ritual it may be that the English will never produce clowns like Fo.'
Michael Stewart, 'A unique clown,' Tribune, 6 May 1983.
'Where English Fo-actors are crude and hysterically over-keen on making you laugh, the original is subtle, at ease with his audience and confident of the intrinsic interest of his material. ... It is great to see someone reviving the traditional enmity between the actor and the church.'
James Fenton, 'The subtle satire of Dario Fo,' The Sunday Times, 8 May 1983.
'... A revelation comparable to London's first sight of the Berliner Ensemble ...'
Irving Wardle, The Times, 5 Jan. 1984.
'Like all great comics, his humour disgorges itself from dark wellsprings of pity and terror. ... Letting his plays leap out of headlines, he never releases them from history. ... As a writer, he stands unsquarely in a mixed tradition of overflowing Elizabethans such as Ben Jonson and the more furious conceits of Molière. Eclectic, at war with God and at peace with himself, he is, in a word, Italian. ... The laughter, especially, is about ... victims who still know how to outsmart the victimisers.'
Gordon Rogoff, 'Mistero buffo,' The Village Voice, 10 June, 1986.
'If there is a single work that embodies the essence of Fo's epic clown it is Mistero buffo. ... Fo's masterpiece. It provides a key to understanding the extraordinary performance techniques required to animate the texts of his large-cast plays. ... Fo infuses every story with the rhythmic drive of a jazz improvisation, the immediacy of a newspaper headline and the social scope of a historical novel. There is a Marxist slant ... but it is far subtler than the cartoon politics that are often found in commercialised adaptations of Fo's plays in the U.S. Fo's politics are skilfully embedded into the comic structure of his material. Instead of blatantly proclaiming his opposition to economic injustices, Fo creates stories that centre on the tension between freedom and oppression. He then orchestrates his comic climaxes so that they coincide with the victim's liberation from servitude, so that laughter and the defeat of tyranny are simultaneously linked in the audience's mind.'
Ron Jenkins, 'Clowns, Politics and Miracles,' 1986, pp. 13-14.
'I have studied the camera movements of the cinema, but what I am really trying to re-create is the effects that were employed by medieval painters of the mystery processions. When painters tell a story they are outside language. They don't show the perspective of only one person. They show diverse points of view. In the sacred presentations of the Mystery plays in the Middle Ages, people would play a variety of scenes from the life of Christ, showing the actions of Jesus, the Madonna, the devils, etc. And when the painters designed their religious frescoes, they recreated mechanically the things that they had seen from different points of view: the same scene from behind, from the front, from a distance. The techniques of cinema were not born with the invention of the camera. They have been used by painters and storytellers for hundreds of years.'
Fo, 1986, in Jenkins, op.cit., p. 15.
The Worker Knows 300 Words, The Boss Knows 1,000 - That's Why He's the Boss (L'operaio conosce 300 parole, il padrone 1,000 - per questo lui è il padrone)
First production: Teatro della Gioventù, Genoa, 3 Nov. 1969 (dir. Fo).
British production: Yorick Theatre Co. Latchmere Theatre, April 1985 (trans. David Hirst, dir. Michael Batz).
A group of workers are clearing out a library in a Communist party community centre to make way for billiard tables. Some of the books they look through come to life in a series of flash-backs. The first scene deals with the Stalinist trials of the Czechoslovakian activists Kvcanic and Slansky. The second shows Gramsci as a young student, talking to workers about socialism and persuading them that they must become the intellectuals of the Communist party. In the second act Franca Rame performed the first of her one-woman shows, about the mother of the Sicilian trade unionist Michele Lu Lanzone, who was murdered by the Mafia after discovering a spring in an area of drought. The mother recalls the events from a mental institution. The final episode deals with Soviet censorship of the poet Mayakovsky's work, his suicide and his mythologisation into a hero. At the end of the play, the workers replace the books and the library, realising that it is still needed.
'What does the 300 words mean? It's not our title; it comes from Barbiana, where a group of farm workers wrote a book in which they used this expression ... It means that the boss has built up his own culture, and imposes it on the worker from above, imposing his laws and his vocabulary and way of writing. At home you have a dialect and a culture ... but the boss cuts you off from it. You have 1,000 words of your own culture, but the boss ... insists that you use his, so the 1,000 words refers to the boss's culture ...'
Fo, Debate with an Audience, Compagni senza censura, 1970, p. 221.
'The epic theatre, or the didactic theatre, if you prefer, opens out its backcloth to expose all the tricks of the trade, and involve the audience in the "technical aspects" of the performance. In The Worker Knows 300 Words ... the Worker shows that an awareness of theatrical representation is essential for learning and the cultural activity he recognises the need for ... the play assumes a reality which is the aim of didactic theatre: the critical involvement of the audience. And since our audiences are proletarian audiences, workers are the protagonists of this reality which we imagine has come about; they are the authors and actors of a theatre which expresses their own culture. And what culture is it that these workers present on stage? A political culture ... They have learned Gramsci's lesson that "if we don't know where we come from, it's hard to understand where we're going." In other words, for someone who is exploited, knowing their own history, how they came to be exploited and for what reasons, and the methods the boss has used to exploit them, is important.'
Fo, in Artese, p. 114-115.
'Fo ... had an expression of Brecht's in mind: "The people know how to say profound and complex things with great simplicity; populists who swoop down from above to write for the people say things that are empty and banal, with great simplicity." His ambition was ... to "make the people speak" and represent on stage problems he had become aware of in his first year, and issues he had heard raised during debates with audiences. His encounter with the world of militants, workers and trade unionists had had a profound effect on him, and stimulated him to express himself in a new way.'
Valentini, p. 111.
'Although the underlying themes of Dario Fo's plays are always serious, his attempts to articulate them in sustained, serious language are frequently unsuccessful. His theatrical text tends to become sententious when he incorporates into it lines taken from political writers such as Gramsci, Lenin, Rosa Luxembourg and so forth. In these cases he breaks the continuity of his direct, "popular" discourse and mounts, as it were, on to a platform. L'Operaio ... is one of the few plays he has written in a predominantly serious vein, and for the most part it is a moving, thought-provoking work, with some scenes of extraordinary dramatic intensity. However, its chief weakness lies in the ... rhetorical tone of its language. Perhaps the real problem ... concerns the subject: unlike most of Fo's plays, which revolve around a concrete and specific political issue, this work is based on an essentially theoretical question; namely, the role and function of culture as an element of political consciousness (and here, also of political praxis) in the working class. An ambitious theme, but one which is undoubtedly better suited to a Brechtian lehrstuck or to Peter Weiss than to a writer like Dario Fo, rooted as he is in the tradition of popular comic theatre and in the bedrock substance of practical political activity. One gets the impression ... that Fo's rather abstract theme needed a correspondingly abstract language which lies outside his normal mode of discourse.'
Suzanne Cowan, The Militant Theatre of Dario Fo, p. 208.
'Dario Fo is not only a brilliant satirist: he is also a thinker. He thinks that "the people" have a vast culture which has almost been obliterated by their oppressors - the church, the state and capitalism. It's the work of his popular theatre to rediscover it. But is there anything to rediscover? The Worker Knows 300 Words ... is more about telling the workers what's good for them than about rediscovering.'
Desmond Christy, The Guardian, 4 April 1985.
Chain Me Up and I'll Still Smash Everything (Legami pure che tanto io spacco tutto lo stesso)
Two one-act plays
First production: Teatro della Gioventù, Genoa, 5 Nov. 1969 (dir. Fo). Law and Order for God and Money's Sake!!! Capannone di via Colletta, Milan, Autumn 1972 (dir. Fo).
British production: The Boss's Funeral, Essex University Theatre, 27 Mar. 1987 (trans. David Hirst, dir. Chris Adamson).
Australian production: The Boss's Funeral University of New South Wales, Sydney, 9 Oct. 1984 (trans. & dir. Tony Mitchell).
In The Loom a communist family who do piece-work at home on weaving looms discover that they have to work sixteen hours a day to meet their overheads. The Mother is staunch in her belief that it is important to follow the precepts of the PCI expressed in their newspaper L'Unità although she never has time to read it. But she becomes aware that the party, in the person of an official who is distributing the piece-work they do, is exploiting them. The father, exhausted by the work and shocked by the fact that his daughter is sleeping with her boyfriend, goes berserk, smashes the looms, and hits his wife on the head. The Mother, unconscious, dreams about a new, reformed communist party in which revisionists and deviationists have been kicked out. This play was extended into the two-act farce, Law and Order for God and Money's Sake !!! adding two characters: a prostitute and an extra-parliamentary, revolutionary son. In The Boss's Funeral a group of workers occupying a factory are evicted by the police and decide to stage a play to draw the attention of other workers on their way to work to their predicament. They 'borrow' some costumes and improvise a carnivalesque play about the death of their boss, an unsuccessful attempt at a heart transplant, and the effects of pollution. This develops into a satire about industrial accidents, in which a butcher is brought onstage to slaughter a goat in a bizarre ritual illustrating the need to maintain the daily average of industrial fatalities. This final theatrical device extends into the play's 'third act': a debate with the audience.
'The characters in the farce ... which the workers perform are the bosses: the boss's widow, the priest, and so on ... As in Carnival or on New Year's Eve, when you bury the old year. But the worker characters complicate the farce with a device which is intended to give it more impact ... But the "sacrifice" would have meant primarily an emotional involvement, which the actors and workers' reject. The theatre still serves the function of debating in front of an audience and with an audience with the tools of farce and satire, and theatrical dialectic, the themes of class struggle, so that everyone ... is a protagonist ...'
Fo, in Artese, pp. 115, 117.
'There is nothing more removed from "agit-prop" in the banal sense of the word, or, on the other hand, from a Pirandellian game in which theatre and reality exhaust each other by reflecting each other. Or rather, it is precisely because Fo's farces use both openly, that they become something else. ... in The Boss's Funeral there are three levels interacting: an almost naturalistic account of a factory occupied by its workers surrounded by the police; then the ludic level of the death and burial of the boss enacted by his workers; and the fairy-tale intervention of the Great Vulture "who transports heavenly souls", also played by a worker. In this detour into fairy tale and cheap romance we recognise the reality of the factory: its smells, pollution, work accidents and exploitation. In the end, the theatre is turned upside down, and reveals its innards. It appears as what it is: the space where a fiction destroys itself in the course of being acted out and extends into the area of class struggle.'
Bernard Dort, Theatre en jeu, 1977, pp. 204-205.
'The anti-technological and anti-exploitation topoi expressed in these two short plays draw their inspiration from the necessity of the moment, that is, by adapting previous works to new situations. ... Studying the differences between the two versions, one can easily explain Fo's militant approach to theatre and particularly the emphasis he places on its didactic and polemical value, over and above its purely aesthetic qualities. In the later version, stress is laid on the message that the only way to bring about any radical social, political and economic change is by building a genuinely revolutionary party. The play is thus not a static presentation of one fixed, immutable message, but a flexible and dynamic instrument of analysis.'
Mario B. Mignone, 'Dario Fo - Jester of the Italian Stage,' 1981, p. 56.
'... These one-acts are interesting for their criticism, from a left-wing point of view, of the PCI, which is accused of collusion with the bourgeoisie and reminded of its radical revolutionary duties at exactly the moment when it was widening its power-base towards the centre and evolving the concept of the national path to socialism. What ... emerge ... are Fo's increasingly Maoist views - views not easily tolerated by the PCI.'
Lino Pertile, 'Dario Fo,' 1984, pp. 179-80.
I'd Rather Die Tonight If I Didn't Think It Had All been in Vain
(Resistance: The Italian and Palestinian people Speak)
(Vorrei morire anche stasera se dovessi pensare che non è servito a niente: Resistenza: parla il popolo italiano e palestinese)
First production: Capannone di via Colletta, Milan, 27 Oct. 1970 (dir. Fo).
The title comes from a poem of the Italian Resistance by Renata Viganò, and the play combines readings, songs, mimes and monologues based on accounts of experiences of Italian partisans (in the first act). These are compared and contrasted with personal testaments by participants in the Palestinian Liberation Movement (in the second act). Put together after only one day's rehearsal, the play was a response to the events of Black September. It includes an account by Franca Rame of Luisa, a woman from Bologna who was tortured and raped by fascists, but who still holds out hopes that Communism will come. There is also an account by Fo of the partisan Angiolino Bertoli who goes on an expedition to blow up an army barracks, and has to hide in a septic tank. In 'The Bestiary', the Russian bear pretends to help the weaker animals of the Middle East against the American tiger, but ends up making an agreement with the tiger and tramples on the rights of the other animals. Another animal fable pits the roosters of Amman against the pigs of King Hussein's police force.
'What emerges is a cry of disappointment and revolt rather than a re-evocation; it is an attempt to convey to a present-day audience the revolutionary impulse which inspired the Resistance ... Fo and Rame reproduce only the more advanced aspects of the Fedayin resistance, those which inspired the overthrow of the old feudal regime before the war against Israel ... in the second act Fo and his company seek a positive outlet for the disappointments exposed in the first part, talking about a "people's" war ... The discussion after the play included among other things not only a violent attack against the USSR, but also an attack against the PCI, which had been presented in the first part as the sole motivating force of the Resistance. ... This really raises the question of who Fo is addressing himself to ... Who does he expect to listen to him?'
Edoardo Fadini, Rinascita, 13 Nov. 1970.
'... An extremely effective play; its scrupulous montage was "scientific", to use Fo's expression ... in the careful precision of the timing, rhythm and tension between performed texts and songs ... and its effectiveness and ability to "keep the audience nailed to their seats" and lead them into a situation of dialectical conflict and compel them to take up a position ... '
Lanfranco Binni, Attento te! 1975, p. 320.
Accidental Death of an Anarchist (Morte accidentale di un anarchico)
First production: Capannone di via Colletta, 10 Dec. 1970 (dir. Fo).
British and Irish productions: Belt and Braces, Dartington College, January, 1979, Half Moon Theatre, London, October, 1979, Wyndham's Theatre, London, 5 Mar. 1980, TV version, Channel 4, 14 Sept. 1983 (trans. Gillian Hanna, adapt. & dir. Gavin Richards); Oscar Theatre, Dublin, 10 Feb. 1981 (dir. Jim Sheridan); Contact Theatre, Manchester, 3 Mar. 1982; Druid Theatre Co., Galway, 13 April, 1982; Hawks Well Theatre, Sligo, 10 May, 1982; Belltable Theatre, Limerick, 17 May, 1982; Lyric Players Theatre, Belfast, 18 May, 1982; New Vic Studio, Bristol, 18 May, 1982; Central Studios, Hampshire, June, 1982; Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, 24 Nov. 1982; Liverpool Playhouse, 25 Nov. 1982; Cork Theatre, 26 Jan. 1983; Newcastle Playhouse, 10 Feb. 1983; Chester Gateway Theatre, 26 Jan. 1983; Theatre Workshop, Edinburgh, 1 Mar. 1983. Bloomsbury Theatre, 1 Nov., 1988 (dir. Andy Arnold). Towngate Theatre, Pagel Mead, Basildon, Essex 2 Oct. 1990, Cottesloe Theatre, Royal National Theatre, London, 4 Jan. 1991 (trans. Alan Cumming & Tim Supple, dir. Tim Supple). Contact Theatre, Manchester, 1997 (trans. Ed Emery).
North American productions: Open Circle Theater, Toronto, 13 Mar. 1980 (trans. Suzanne Cowan, adapt. & dir. R. G. Davis); Mark Taper Forum, Los Angeles, Jan. 1983 (adapt. John Lahr, dir.Mel Shapiro); Arena Theater Washington, 9 Feb. 1984 and Belasco Theater, Broadway, 15 Nov. 1984 (adapt. Richard Nelson, dir.Douglas C. Wager); Eureka Theater, San Francisco, Nov. 1984 (adapt. Joan Holden, dir. Anthony Taccone).
Australian productions: Nimrod Theatre, Sydney, 15 Jan. 1981, Fortune Theatre, Canberra, 12 Sept. 1981, and Melbourne Theatre Company, 2 Feb. 1983 (trans. Tony Mitchell, adapt. & dir. Brent McGregor); T.N! Theatre, Brisbane, 29 Feb. 1984 (dir. Rod Wissler). State Theatre of South Australia, the Playhouse, Adelaide, 16 Apr. 1994, Footbridge Theatre, Sydney, 20 May, 1994 (trans. Alan Cumming & Tim Supple, adapt. & dir. Robyn Archer).
A 'Maniac' infiltrates the Milan Police Station, where an anarchist suspect has 'fallen' to his death from a fourth-floor window during interrogation about a series of bomb explosions in Milan. The Maniac poses as an examining magistrate conducting an inquiry into the anarchist's death, interrogating the police officers who were present at the time of the 'leap'. After demolishing any semblance of credibility in the conflicting and implausible police accounts of events, he convinces them the only solution is to follow the anarchist's example and leap out the window. He then persuades them to construct a new version of events which will win them public sympathy, and which involves singing an anarchist song to prove how well-disposed they were to the suspect. In the second act, a woman Journalist arrives to interview the police about the case for a magazine. The Maniac 'disguises' himself first as a forensic expert, then a bishop, to conceal his `identity' from her, while managing to convince her the police are responsible for the anarchist's death. Unmasked, the Maniac handcuffs the police, and produces a detonator for a bomb which has been shown as evidence. He then reveals that he has taped the entire proceedings and will give the tape to the media.
'I realised we needed a decoy character, a surety, so to speak. And then I got the idea that this surety could be a madman who holds the key ... to all the madness, and he becomes normal, while everything else is abnormal. A total reversal. Another important thing we noticed in explanations of the story was indignation ... we realised that indignation is really a means of catharsis, liberation and letting off steam. This ... became central ... The play was conceived in a grotesque style to avoid any dramatic catharsis. If we had created a dramatic play instead of a comic, grotesque and satirical play, we would have created another liberating catharsis. But this play doesn't allow you this outlet, because when you laugh, the sediment of anger stays inside you, and can't get out. It's no wonder dictatorial governments always forbid laughter and satire first, rather than drama.'
Fo, 1970, in Meldolesi, pp. 178-179.
'... A grotesque farce about a tragic farce ... popular theatre has always used the grotesque and farce - which was invented by the people - to develop dramatic arguments ... Anger and hatred must become conscious action in collaboration with others, and not just the individual letting off steam in an impotent way ... This play about the assassination of Pinelli has two main features, which are also pointers towards work and hence confrontation for anyone who is active on the cultural front. First and foremost the "documentary theatre" aspect; a theatre which sets out to interpret the current movement of class struggle, which participates in it as a form of critical consciousness, which is against any position of flat, naturalistic description of "phenomena", but has instead a conscious desire for historical and political "synthesis". The second feature is that of language which has its roots in the rich cultural heritage of popular culture, satire and grotesque farce.'
Fo. Introduction to Knock, Knock! Who's There? Police!, 1973, pp. 11-13.
'But what has been the real reason for the show's success? It is not so much the way it mocks the hypocrisies, the lies that are organised so grossly and blatantly (which is putting it mildly) by the constituted organs of the State and by the functionaries who serve them (judges, police chiefs, prefects, undersecretaries and ministers); it has been above all the way it deals with social democracy and its crocodile tears, the indignation which can be relived by a little burp in the form of scandal; scandal as a liberating catharsis of the system ... But unluckily for them, they will have to realise that there are a lot of us ... and this time their burp is going to stick in their throats.'
Fo, Postscript to Accidental Death of an Anarchist, trans. Ed Emery, 1974, pp. 77-78.
'... An exemplary farce which, using the paradoxical techniques of his "mid period" plays, dismantles and continually re-assembles, with rapidly mounting pace and entertainment, the false and conflicting versions of the outrageous judicial case presented by the police. This is an example of great theatre, in which the wild inventiveness of the writing blends harmoniously with the aims of counter-information, and succeeds in having a concrete effect on consolidating public opinion in a way one rarely sees happen.'
Franco Quadri, 'Introduction' to Le commedie di Dario Fo, pp. xiii-xiv.
'Obviously, the shows have to be altered when they're transported into a British context. They take on other values, other modes of expression, other cultural styles, etc. But at the same time, some of the shows - I am thinking of the production of Accidental Death ... which I saw here in London - seem to me very overloaded, verging terribly on the grotesque. Many people, though, have said that they liked that production ... even with the excessive buffoonery that they introduced into it. ... In my opinion these productions lack subtlety. They lack detachment, which must be the first main quality of an "epic" actor.'
Fo, in Riverside Workshops, Red Notes, 1983, pp. 67-68.
'Despite the moralising tone of the last half-hour, Morte accidentale is certainly Fo's best achievement in the vein of dramatic topicality. Differing from the more broadly didactic Mistero buffo, it captures the moment of direct intervention, when popular awareness, restored to the people by the jester, is enlisted into the daily praxis of class struggle. And it captures, more vividly than any literary work of the time, the enthusiasm, the agitation, the anxiety and fear which swept Italy.'
Lino Pertile, 'Dario Fo,' 1984, p. 183.
'The capacity of Fo's buffoon to impersonate policemen, anarchists, judge, and bishop fosters a comic, carnivalesque vision of society where, as Bakhtin said of the carnival in Rabelais's world, people become interchangeable in their mass body. Fo becomes a one-man carnival, and amply represents the collectivity ...'
Joel Schechter, 'The Un-American Satire of Dario Fo,' 1984, pp. 116-117.
'Don't call my play a comedy. There is a misunderstanding of the word. I call it farce. In current language, farce is understood as vulgar, trivial, facile, very simple. In truth, this is a cliché of official culture. What they call comedy today has lost the rebellious strain of ancient times. What is provocative and rebellious is farce. The establishment goes for comedy, the people for farce.'
Fo, Programme Note for Washington Arena Production of Accidental Death, 1984.
'Can the killing of Accidental Death of an Anarchist, at the Arena Stage in Washington, be an accident? The answer to that question could go to the bone of American politics if such a sweeping view wouldn't seem to exonerate adaptor Richard Nelson, director Douglas Wager, and producer Zelda Fichlander from responsibility for the loss of nerve, intelligence, and focus that has occurred in their adaptation of Dario Fo's 'tragic farce'. ... Nelson has ruthlessly Simonized it, substituting random gags for forceful satire. Fo never writes gags, hit-and-run jokes grabbing laughs. Nelson's utterly deflect the play's political urgency.'
Elinor Fuchs, 'Their Fo is Folly,' Village Voice, 20 Mar. 1984.
'It didn't work at the Mark Taper Forum ... and ... it doesn't really work on Broadway. But finally an American company has got Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist right. ... the Eureka Theatre of San Francisco ... had the sense to go to Joan Holden for an adaptation ... Holden has been writing scripts for the San Francisco Mime Troupe for 15 years - the closest thing we have to Fo's radical theatre troupe in Italy. Like Fo, Holden knows that the first thing that people's theatre has to do is be entertaining. ... Holden's Accidental Death does so, the message snaking in underneath.'
Dan Sullivan, 'Bicoastal Accidental Death,' Los Angeles Times, 25 Nov. 1984
'All the North American productions of Anarchist, including my own, have failed to match the author's intentions, have misunderstood the structure of the work, and have not given enough importance to the casting of a recognisably political actor in the lead. ... So far, most US productions of Anarchist have tried to downplay or ignore the politics. Producers, directors and players have aimed for a slapstick hit. Their thinking seems to be that the more the play is de-politicised, the better will be its reception from the public and the critics. The rub is that when you ignore the political content of Anarchist you swamp both the politics and the comedy. It will not serve to cast a clown in the main role. A way must be found to politicise the comedy and fill the politics with humour.'
R. G. Davis, 'Seven Anarchists I Have Known', 1986, pp. 313, 318.
'My chief memory of the original Belt and Braces production back in 1979 is of a breakneck farce with Alfred Molina as the protagonist looking like Tommy Cooper on speed; this new version by Alan Cumming and Tim Supple is far less funny but politically more potent.
It treats the play as moral satire rather than grotesque farce. ... the quality that makes Fo uniquely powerful, the ability to wring wild laughter out of insidious corruption, is here deliberately muted: instead of guilty ecstasy we get careful point-scoring. ... This is Fo shrewdly updated but without his carnivalesque danger.'
Michael Billington, The Guardian 9 Jan. 1991.
'Dario Fo's play is a farce; but it is written by a man who combines the hilarious impertinence of a music hall comic with the moral fervour of a Savonarola. Supple directs it as simply a batty farce; he forgets that farce can be dangerous, and that Fo exploits this brilliantly, with a sense of menace which is both hilarious and shocking.
This is essentially a harmless, jolly English production, constantly tipping a wink to the audience, and having fun with a Prince Charles take-off and references to Chief Constable Anderton. Fo has written a lethal parody of a very real and very nasty political crime story; Supple has turned it into a flaccid sitcom.'
John Peter, Sunday Times, 13 Jan. 1991.
'Dario Fo has not always been pleased with British performances of his moral farces. The production of Accidental Death of an Anarchist that introduced West End audiences to his work in 1980 struck him as lacking in satiric bile and bite, too often "exclusively comic." Yet the National Theatre's revival of the same play last year he thought too solemn and didactic. The balance, as he is the first to agree, is diabolically hard to catch and, as he is too polite to add, does not come easily to Anglo-Saxons.'
Benedict Nightingale, The Times, 15 Apr. 1992.
United We Stand! All Together Now! Oops, Isn't That the Boss?
(Tutti uniti! Tutti insieme! Ma scusa, quello non è il padrone?)
Two-act play subtitled: 'Workers' Struggles 1911-1922' (Lotte operaie 19911-1922)
First production: Casa del Popolo, Varese, 27 Mar. 1971 (dir. Fo).
The play follows the political education of Antonia Berazzi, a dressmaker, who develops from an apolitical, ingenuous representative of the world of high fashion into a revolutionary activist. Her husband, Norberto, a militant in the revolutionary wing of the Italian Socialist Party, is killed by a fascist squad. Antonia, pretending to be a police informer, infiltrates police headquarters, where a secret deal is taking place involving a trade unionist, an industrialist's wife, a police superintendent, a colonel and a fascist. Antonia avenges her husband by shooting the fascist, and the body is dumped in the same rubbish tip where Norberto was shot along with 20 other comrades. Antonio regrets her action, however, since she has `killed the dog instead of the masters'. The story proceeds through a series of flashbacks. In 1911, Antonia is caught in a police raid of a subversive meeting at which she is an unwitting participant, and Norberto is arrested after she criticises Mussolini. Her wedding coincides with Italy's entry into World War One and clashes between patriots and socialists opposed to the war. In 1917 Antonia visits Norberto in prison, and tells him the Socialist Party leaders have refused to support the insurrectionary struggles in Turin. In 1920 the factory occupations by workers in Turin, lead by Gramsci, are shown to be betrayed by the Socialist leaders and trade unionists who make a deal with the government.
'Even though the play's predominant form is certainly not grotesque, much of the action which the dressmaker is the protagonist of is made up of farcical gags. Antonia's language is full of proverbs and jargon which have their roots in popular culture. Her character is built around one of the commedia masks: the étourdie. She is a kind of vamp who gradually acquires political awareness and becomes étourdie (dim witted) in a cunning and calculating way.'
Fo, in Sipario, March 1971.
'While we were touring around the employment centres and co-operative headquarters where the working class invited us for discussions, this historical period kept on coming up - 1911 and the arrival of fascism. A lot of old people who had lived through this period demonstrated in what they said that even they had not become aware of the historical significance of those years. So there was a need for first a clear understanding of them, and then sustained research into them. Since we'd left the bourgeois theatre to put ourselves at the service of the "working class", we had an obligation to develop this subject, and untangle the confusion, since it involved the origins of the whole workers' movement in Italy. And now that there is a resurgence of fascism it's even more important to understand the origins and reason for today's fascism, even if the situations are different from an objective viewpoint.'
Fo, `Teatro di situazione uguale teatro popolare,' Sipario, May 1971, p. 43.
'Fo's play has a curious and quite innovative structure ... It is built on a farcical form based on striking gags, historical and documentary events inserted in flashbacks (relating the dressmaker's life story) ... and violent, political songs which deliberately provoke the audience and break up the dramatic narrative, giving the play a street theatre quality which Dario Fo has perhaps incorporated for the first time. he does so prudently, like the old hand he is at theatrical experimentation ... a noteworthy advance on Accidental Death of an Anarchist. '
Edoardo Fadini, Rinascità, no. 18, 1971.
'... The internal structure is marked by a violent play of emotional chiaroscuro which is sustained by a desire to involve the audience, totally manipulating and controlling them through the mechanism of identification and projection. This is evidenced by the rigid alternation between serious, emotional sequences (which are not tragic, however ...) and comic sequences ...an often congenial and wildly scatological thread places certain aspects of the play in the equivocal area of provincial vaudeville and popular avanspettacolo. Hence it would almost seem that the Gramscian lesson, cited openly here as elsewhere by Fo, of the need for a class culture ... is interpreted in reverse, by retaining from this lesson its ambiguously populist aspects, whereby melodrama and vaudeville are seen as real models for an audience that is more petit bourgeois than working class. For Gramsci, these models were intended to be used in an ... introductory fashion, to initiate a certain type of lively, authentic dialogue with the target audience.'
Paolo Puppa, 'L'erba voglia,' Apr. 1972.
'Undoubtedly in terms of playwriting, the form of United We Stand! ... is different from the other plays of that period, like Anarchist ... and there is a lack of pace and spontaneity which appears to be due to the didactic structure within which the play develops. There are a number of static parts, and signs that a story is being told rather than represented on stage.'
Lanfranco Binni, Attento te!, 1975, p. 319.
'... In the story of the sub-proletarian woman in All Together Now, United We Stand, which is about her gaining political awareness, there is a clear historical situation: the disunity of the workers' movement, for which the leaders of the Communist Party are largely responsible on both an ideological and an organisational level. This, together with the split and the lack of faith in the power of the proletariat, are the basis of a real political situation.
The play is about the consciousness of a woman in conflict with her situation of being a woman and being exploited. It even involves a love story, which is not presented in metaphorical terms, but as the living relationship between a woman and a man which is the consequence of this consciousness, and the cultural, political and moral transformation, the ideological and moral change, which is fundamental for this woman.'
Fo, 'Some Aspects of Popular Theatre,' 1977, p.133.
Two act play: 'The Palestinian Revolution through its Culture and Songs' (La rivoluzione palestinese attraverso la sua cultura e i suoi canti)
First production: Capannone di via Colletta, Milan, Jan. 1972 (dir. Fo).
A documentary play about the Palestinian struggles performed by Franca Rame and eight members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, with simultaneous translation from Arabic to Italian, slides, masks and songs. A thirteen-year-old girl narrates how she joined the Fedayin at the age of nine, and had to kill another nine-year-old who was wounded, so that she wouldn't be captured and interrogated by Hussein's bedouins. In a modern version of the story of Judith and Holofernes, a Palestinian woman sleeps with and then kills a captain from Hussein's police force, a well-known torturer of the Fedayin. A thief gives up his life of crime to join the guerillas, and a man fighting on the Al Fatah side sees the error of his ways and joins the Popular Front. Women try to prevent ancient traditional customs like their exclusion from funeral services and the whipping of brides on their wedding night. A woman whose Fedayin son has been killed pleads for him not to be made a hero, because 'our stories should be true stories about men who trip up, who have constant doubts, who are afraid, but who don't run away.'
'You are trying to distinguish between honest and dishonest Fedayins. This argument is not political, nor is it acceptable; you can't split a resistance movement, which should be united, into honest and dishonest factions, into right and left, as you are doing.'
Union of Palestinian Students Representative, in Valentini, p. 143.
'... This is not a play conceived along classical lines, nor does it follow any rigidly expository or narrative thread. It is a montage of testimonies, songs, slides, readings from documents, theatre-verité sketches, explanatory speeches and asides, reflections and comments on particular events, more or less along the lines pursued by Piscator in 1925 when he produced Trotz alleden! ... through these means the play achieves more than any work of the imagination could in managing to convey a sense of the upheaval that the Palestinian people have gone through, and gives a desperately epic quality to their struggle for survival ... the question as to whether or not this is theatre seems an idle one.'
Aldo Paladino, `Dario Fo nipotino politico di Piscator,' Il Dramma, Sept.-Oct. 1972, pp. 28, 30.
'Apart from the riots and the often pretentious polemics, and despite the later, partly self-critical statement by La Comune and the PFLP that they had dealt too directly with the internal problems of the Palestinian Resistance Movement in a situation of general lack of information (which may have led to sectarian interpretations of the play, particularly its criticisms of the Al Fatah position), Fedayin remains a coherently internationalist play, in its production aspects as well as its content... a militant play in the fullest sense of the word, arising from specific political needs of the (revolutionary) movement in Italy and a concrete response to the need for "support" on every level, requested by a liberation movement.'
Lanfranco Binni, Attento te! 1975, p.338.
'They were theatrical statements which theatre people made in order not to feel paralysed by the struggles of particular people. They are useful because they can help others to break out of the same sort of feeling, which is natural because of the alarm which events caused ... Fedayin dealt with the significance of the split between the right and the left of the Palestinian resistance movement, and the crisis in the movement after the massacre in July at Gerashea Ajlun. The limitations of these plays and the information they provide, seen in retrospect, are due to the need for a quick statement, which can sometimes lead to presenting arguments which are provisional and hasty.'
Fo, in Artese, pp. 127-128.
Knock, Knock! Who's There? Police! (Pum, Pum! Chi è? La Polizia!)
First production: Circolo Quarticciolo La Comune, Rome, 7 Dec. 1972 (dir. Fo).
A sequel to Accidental Death of an Anarchist, performed as a rehearsed reading, and written for the third anniversary of the bomb explosions in Milan's Piazza Fontana, after which the anarchist Pinelli was interrogated. It is set in the Italian Ministry of the Interior, with a chorus of civil servants who sing songs commenting on the action. The play begins with investigations into the bomb explosion at the Banca dell'Agricoltura and the police manhunt for the anarchists Valpreda and Pinelli. A taxi driver's evidence suggests that fascists are implicated in the bombing. But the Chief of Secret Police (played by Fo) instructs that fascist leads should not be followed up, despite the known involvement if one Valerio Borghese in an attempted right-wing coup d'état. In the second act, Andreotti gives orders to direct the police inquiry into right wing terrorist groups. Specific people and events of the 'strategy of tension' are mentioned by name, and continual news updates on events are telephoned in to the Chief. He repeatedly asks what the man in the street thinks about the situation, and attempts to quell the mass movement of mobilisation against the 'state massacres' by offering sex and mass executions. The Chief also performs Scapin's Grammelot, a lesson in theatrical hypocrisy taken from Molière, which is presented as a demonstration of 'the real art of a Christian Democrat minister.' The play ends with a song inviting people not to 'hang their head, or the boss will break their neck.'
'... Extends the argument begun in my play about the death of comrade Pinelli. It is a didactic play, and an attempt to synthesise the historical process which is underway: three years of history of the "state massacres" and their class enemy, the working class and its supporters, who have caused the angry and defensive reaction of the Italian bourgeoisie to action which has been largely spontaneous. In this case the weapon of demystification is again the grotesque ... the "state massacres" and their criminal developments have been reconstructed in grotesque form from the point of view of the authorities, in an office which played a fundamental role in the Piazza Fontana operation.'
Fo, 'Introduction' to Knock, Knock!, 1973, pp. 13-14.
'... Written in seven or eight days, and rehearsed in eight days ... a long gag lasting a good two and a half hours; convulsive and frenetic with telephone calls, functionaries coming and going, orders from the ministry, and the arrival and departure of documents, information, instructions to the police, news, etc. ... In the first act the attacks against the PCI are cautious. In the second act a squalid biliousness emerges, culminating in the final debate, which instead of being a discussion embellishing and correcting the play ... is a tirade indicting our party as the real enemy of the working class.'
Edoardo Fadini, Rinascita, 22 Dec. 1972.
'As usual, truncheons speedily interpret the need for law and order ... The play was not in fact designed to please the police force ... But Fo and Rame have been making a nuisance of themselves for quite a number of reasons ... Guaranteeing Fo the freedom to perform does not mean talking about the freedom of art and culture, nor is it the same thing as fighting for Marlon Brando's right to use butter ... In our permissive society comics have not been a cause for alarm for some time now. But this comic is a cause for alarm, to the extent that there are attempts to get rid of him with police warrants as well as by other means, and to give him a brutal warning: "If you carry on the way you're going, you're a dead man." ... Is there any real difference between a country where an MP is beaten up for speaking in parliament and a country where a woman is tortured because she talks about political problems on a stage?'
Umberto Eco, 'Pum, Pum! Chi è? Fascisti!' Espresso, 18 Mar. 1973.
The People's War in Chile (Guerra di popolo in Cile)
First production: Palazzo dello Sport, Bolzano, 20 Oct. 1973 (dir. Fo).
A montage of monologues, songs and sketches written and performed by Fo, Rame and the Sicilian cantastorie Cicciu Busacca, in response to the coup in Chile. A duet on the last transmission of the Chilean radio station MIR is followed by a digression on international politics and in particular the Middle East, comparing Golda Meir with a parrot. A song about Murieta, a Chilean activist in the miners' struggle who becomes an outlaw and is killed in a battle is followed by the Chilean Christian Democratic party, personified as the madam of a brothel, who backs the coup and appeals to the pope for support. An 'incident' occurs in which police messages received in the theatre indicate that there has been a coup d'état in Italy. In the second act, a monologue and songs celebrate the songs and revolutionary example of Victor Jara. Cicciu Corno, a piece by Busacca, tells how the donkey used to have a horn with which it defended weaker animals. It was tricked by the powerful animals into cutting it off so they could kill the other animals, proving that 'only the revolution can save the proletariat.' The last piece is Mamma Togni, a monologue about a woman who drives away fascist speakers from a platform with a stick. She is arrested, but released to general public acclaim. The play ends with a discussion with the audience.
'... We tried out improvisation techniques; it was a play in which all the actors came on stage one at a time and played characters who were apparently unrelated to one another - it was basically a series of interlinked monologues. But the main element was provocation, which is why we were attacked by some left wing magazines, and by comrades from some groups, for the play's violence and realism in terms of provocation. They said we'd played a "dirty trick" on them and treated serious matters too lightly, namely the possibility of a coup d'état. ... (in) popular theatre you find the same techniques, namely "incidents", ruthless violent provocation which makes you sit up straight ... You find the same sort of provocation in El Teatro Campesino, and again in the stories which comrades tell us now about Porto Margera, where there were demonstrations with Christs on crosses in the streets ... We realised that our recent experiences had given us the courage to overturn the rules of a theatre which has always been looked upon like the Parthenon.'
Fo, 'Popular Culture', p. 53.
'It is probably the first time in the history of the theatre that an actor was taken directly from the stage to prison, before he had even begun his performance, with an armed escort usually reserved for important criminals.'
Chiara Valentini, Panorama, 22 Nov. 1973.
'My opinion of Dario Fo and his work is so negative that I refuse to talk about him. Fo is a kind of plague on the Italian theatre. I should say the worst possible things about him, but this doesn't seem an appropriate time.'
Pier Paolo Pasolini, in Panorama, 22 Nov. 1973.
'(Pasolini) is undoubtedly one of the greatest cultural figures of our time. He had an extraordinarily coherent relationship with his own life. He was a literary figure of great strength and geniality. But he wasn't a playwright. I understand why he disapproved of me, since I had previously indicated that he was unable to "create theatre," in connection with a play he was attempting to stage. His work just didn't stand up; it was merely literature, and didn't have the necessary basic grounding in theatre, or the dialogue necessary for theatre, or the timing or the structure. He was greatly offended by this; he was furious. That's my explanation for his negative statement about me.'
Fo, in Moda Italia, Sept. 1985, p. 340.
Can't Pay? Won't Pay! (Non si paga, non si paga!)
A Farce in Two Acts
First production: Palazzina Liberty, Milan, 3 Oct. 1974 (dir. Fo). New, Revised Edition, Palazzina Liberty, 16 Sept. 1980 (dir. Fo).
British and Irish productions: (as We Can't Pay? We Won't Pay!, trans. Lino Pertile, adapt. Bill Colville and Robert Walker), Half Moon Theatre, London, 22 May, 1978 (dir. Robert Walker); Oxford Theatre Group, Edinburgh Festival, August, 1980 (dir. Tim Sebel); Overground Theatre Company, Kingston, Oct. 1980 (dir. Philip Partridge); Phoenix Arts Theatre, Leicester, Jan. 1981; Leeds Playhouse, April 1981. (As Can't Pay? Won't Pay!) Criterion Theatre, London, 15 Jul. 1981 (dir. Robert Walker); Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent, 6 Oct. 1982; Drumbeat Company, Plymouth, 7 Feb. 1983; Project Arts Centre, Dublin, May 1983; Cambridge Theatre Company, May 1983; Legit theatre Company, Dublin, June 1983; Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, Jul. 1983; Spectacle Theatre Company, Glamorgan, Wales, 13 Feb. 1984; Civic Theatre, Chelmsford, 13 Feb. 1984; Dukes Playhouse, Lancaster, 4 April 1984; Torch Theatre, Milford Haven, Oct. 1985 (dir. Les Miller). Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh (with additional Scottish material by Alex Norton), 1988. Lyric, Hammersmith, 19 March 1990 (dir. Alexander Bridge).
North American productions: (as We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! Tamahous Theater, Vancouver, Sept. 1980 (adapt. & dir. R. G. Davis); Chelsea Theater Center, New York, 16 Dec. 1980 (adapt. & dir. R. G. Davis);Empty Space Theater, Seattle, 12 May 1981 (dir. Richard Edwards); San Francisco Mime Troupe, 1981 (dir. Joan Holden); (as We Can't Pay? We Won't Pay!) Open Circle, Toronto, Sept. 1981 (dir. Sylvia Tucker); Los Angeles Actors' Theater, Sept. 1981; Wisdom Bridge Theater, Chicago, 1985.
Australian productions: (as We Can't Pay? We Won't Pay! ) Wood Street Theatre, Newcastle, May 1980 (trans. Margaret Kunzle dir. Brent McGregor); New Theatre, Sydney, Jul. 1980; New Theatre, Melbourne, Apr. 1981; Q Theatre, Penrith, Jun. 1981; Troupe Theatre, South Australia, 8 Oct. 1981;Theatre South, Wollongong, Mar. 1982; TN! Theatre, Brisbane, 24 Mar. 1982; Murray River Performing Group, Dec. 1982 (trans. Lino Pertile, adapt. Bill Colville & Robert Walker); Universal Theatre, Melbourne, Jun. 1983 (dir. Lois Ellis); (as Don't Pay! Don't Pay! ) Theatre ACT, Canberra, 7 Sept. 1985 (trans. Tony Mitchell dir. John Derum).
Antonia, a working class Milanese woman, has pilfered some goods from her local supermarket after a protest against rising prices has developed into a riot of looting. She and her neighbour Margherita set about trying to hide the stolen goods from their line-toeing PCI husbands, and Margherita stuffs a bag of groceries down her coat. Giovanni, Antonia's husband, catches sight of Margherita on his arrival home, and Antonia tells him Margherita is pregnant but has been hiding the fact. Antonia goes to Margherita's place to borrow something for dinner. Giovanni is visited by a Maoist police constable who is searching their apartment block for stolen goods, but is in favour of civil disobedience. Antonia returns with Margherita, and they are searched again by more police, who end up taking both women to a maternity hospital for a `baby transplant.' Luigi, Margherita's husband, arrives with news that he, Giovanni and their work-mates have been retrenched. Giovanni tells him of his wife's 'pregnancy', and they set off for the maternity hospital. In Act Two, Antonia and Margherita, after giving police and hospital the slip, return home and start transporting their 'shopping' to a garden shed. Luigi and Giovanni meet the Maoist constable again at a road accident involving a truckload of stolen sacks of sugar, rice and flour. Encouraged by the constable, they steal some sacks and transport them home in a coffin. A police sergeant apprehends the two women with their 'pregnant' bellies, but they convince him he has gone blind when the electricity is cut off. They then blow up his stomach with oxygen in an attempt to revive him after he knocks himself unconscious. Finally, the thefts by both the husbands and the wives are revealed to one another. Giovanni is convinced that civil disobedience is the only effective way of fighting oppression and exploitation, and the police sergeant revives, convinced he is pregnant. Finally, in a riot in the street hundreds of women drive away a battalion of police.
'We've tried to avoid the pitfalls of ideological didacticism by means of a "theatre of situation." This is a means similar to that of "epic theatre," where it's not the characters who advance the action, but the situation, the theatrical mechanism.
The development is determined and sustained by events, and the characters involved in the situation are the gears which move or manoeuvre this mechanism. This flick of a switch can release a mechanism of paradox, then blow it up like a photo, intensify it, stand it on its head, speed it up, or explode it.
This isn't a "career" choice, even if the career aspect of this type of theatre is important. It's a cultural choice, because being involved in a theatre of situation means representing a story rather than acting it. It means not being involved in the "drama" arising from the individual character and his or her private and individual problems and relationships with others, but rather dealing with everybody's problems in the context of a collective drama. These problems emerge in an explosive way in a dialectical conflict of relationships within a "situation" The actual drafting of the play is my sole responsibility, but from the first improvised reading to the final mise en scène the text has been discussed repeatedly, not only among our collective, but above all with workers' groups and committees from various different factories in Milan. ... This is, in our opinion, the correct way to run a "collective" theatre.'
Fo, 1974, 'Editorial Note' to Non si paga! Non si paga!
'Deals with the very vital current issue of civil disobedience, in the form of battles against increases in market and service prices, new instances of which are continually being reported in the newspapers. But what is outstanding about it is that Fo, with the sensibility and awareness that make him one of the most extraordinary figures in Italian theatre, has imagined these episodes before they actually happened. Then reality began to imitate art.'
Alberto Blandi, La Stampa, 3 Oct. 1974.
'A real farce in the 1958-59 mould: all the comic ingredients are there, from coffins in the cupboard to cross dressing, from coups de théâtre to grotesque miracles; here and there didactic declarations about current events are badly integrated into the play's fabric (a typical example being the final "epic" song).'
Lanfranco Binni, Dario Fo, 1977, p. 78.
'... Amidst the laughter at the implausible twists and turns of this extremely threadbare story, or one of Fo's gags, which are getting more and more re-cycled and almost as if quoted from his arsenal in a process of self-codification like Eduardo (De Filippo), amidst the lazzi and the games, embarrassment and annoyance crept in ... (and) a discomfort not at the politics, but at the rhetoric of the politics.'
Ugo Volli, La Repubblica, 19 Sept. 1980.
'It is rare to find a farce original enough to forget bedroom antics and find jokes in rising prices and quips in unpaid bills and redundancy notices. This Dario Fo does with ease, thanks to an ever-bubbling onrush of comic ideas and a natural liking for anyone in a desperate fix. He makes you glad to be alive.'
John Barber, The Daily Telegraph, 17 July 1981.
'As the ascent of Vaclav Havel has shown, there must always be hope that art will prevail over tyranny. Mediocrity, though, is a more pernicious enemy, and it is by numbing mediocrity that Dario Fo's comic satire is grievously shafted in Alexander Bridge's flaccid revival. ... there is nothing political or Italian or satirical or even funny about this wheezing production, played by the cast as if it were Move Over, Mrs. Markham at Leatherhead. It makes for one of those limbo evenings in the stalls which chillingly remind us that the price of freedom in theatre is that directors like Bridge may take their pick of plays from the shelf at French's. Appallingly, most of his audience will now, presumably, think of Fo as kith and kin to Ray Cooney.'
Michael Wright, Time Out, 7 Mar. 1990.
Fanfani Kidnapped (Il Fanfani rapito)
A Play in three acts and two interludes.
First production: Palazzina Liberty, Milan, 5 Jun. 1975 (dir. Fo).
'A bitterly hilarious indictment of the Christian Democratic Party (DC), personified by one of its most important leaders: former Italian Prime Minister and one-time DC secretary, Amintore Fanfani. The action begins with a political kidnapping: Fanfani is abducted on the orders of none other than the Christian Democratic Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, for the purpose of arousing a wave of public outrage and sympathy calculated to win votes for the DC in the forthcoming elections. (The first performance of the play was held on 5th June 1975, just ten days before nationwide regional elections). Believing he is in the hands of an authentic terrorist group, Fanfani blurts out a hysterical "confession" in which he admits to all the corruption, clericalism, repression and unscrupulous opportunism which have marked the party's thirty-year-old administration. At a certain point, faced with the impending discovery of their hideout, the kidnappers are obliged to move Fanfani to a new location: a private, very exclusive abortion clinic directed by nuns. They disguise him as a woman and, terrified by the prospect of mutilation or death, he is assailed by a violent attack of intestinal gas, which swells his stomach to pre-delivery proportions. In order to avoid a veritable explosion, he must undergo a Caesarean section. When his stomach is cut open, releasing a violent stream of gas and smoke, Fanfani gives birth to a remarkable infant: a fascist puppet decked out in fez and black shirt. During the grotesque delivery, Fanfani dies and is immediately transported to heaven. Jesus, Mary and St. Michael - represented as militant leaders and defenders of the poor - are waiting to sit in judgment on him. During the trial, the most scathing indictment of Fanfani's crimes comes from the Virgin, who condemns him and his party to perdition. Before being banished from heaven, however, he is forced to listen to Mary's prediction of the future. In a madly surrealistic climax, a sort of witches' Sabbath in heaven, she foretells the eventual disaster which awaits the Christian Democrats and the ultimate triumph of the revolutionary working class. At this point Fanfani wakes up in his office to discover that the entire episode has been a dream. However, in one of Fo's most clamorous surprise endings, the dream proves to be real after all. No sooner does he come to his senses than a group of kidnappers - flesh-and-blood ones this time - breaks into his office. They inform him that the abduction has been arranged by Andreotti, and drag him away, screaming.'
Suzanne Cowan, Dario Fo: Bibiogaphy, Biography, Playography, 1978, p. 20.
'A more coherent farce (than Can't Pay!) ... it uses a trick from Medieval theatre already used in Always Blame the Devil: Fo reduced to the grotesque dimensions of Fanfani au naturel (one and a half hand spans tall, an idiot and a troublemaker) ... The theatrical effectiveness of the play once again consists mainly of Fo's great comic abilities as an actor, freely entertaining the audience in a wildly satirical game.'
Binni, Dario Fo, p. 78.
'A complicated ... fable which is unchecked by any artistic restraint, freewheeling in a ramshackle and haphazard way with a crudeness that lashes out at any target; sometimes the Communist Party, sometimes, obviously, the Christian Democrats - frontally and indiscriminately. ... Once again the extremist parameters of Fo's vision, combined with his demagogy, take him a long way outside the concrete reality of political struggles in Italy. When all is said an done, his Fanfani Kidnapped is an innocuous squib.'
Arturo Lazzari, L'Unità, 7 Jun. 1975.
Mother's Marijuana is the Best (La marjuana della mamma è la più bella)
First production: Palazzina Liberty, Milan, 2 Mar. 1976 (dir. Fo).
'In a working class family, mother (Rosetta, Franca Rame) and grandfather (Fo) use various types of drugs, from "grass" to scorpion punctures (sic), also growing their own and dealing on a small scale among their neighbours. After a series of arguments with their son/grandson Luigi and his friend, who is on "hard" drugs, the by-now experienced drug-takers unmask a priest, who is an informer and member of the Mafia, and throw him out of the window together with a policeman from the narcotics squad ... The defenestration is the culmination of a series of ritual punishments to these symbols of authority, carried out in order to damage their dignity and physical well-being: their trousers are pulled down and their bottoms branded, and there is an account of the injuries Rosetta inflicts on the carabiniere Antonio. The couple finally reveal to the youngsters that their addiction has been faked, as a strategy to teach both of them a lesson. Ordinary cigarette smoke and plastic scorpions have been used to demonstrate the class and ideological function of drugs, which divert, mystify and dissipate authentic class struggle.'
Cappa & Nepoli, pp. 116-117.
'We do not tell stories from the past ... we are exclusively interested in what is happening now. We deal with drugs that are still distributed under the name of psycho-pharmaceuticals to make workers work harder, and we attempt to make young people understand, and to understand better ourselves, all the pitfalls which the authorities, and not only the authorities, have surrounded this problem with.
We have attempted to be as informative as possible ... without providing any definitive solutions. And above all we have tried to involve people by entertaining them, making them laugh themselves rigid, if possible. We think that the intelligence that operates through satire and mockery, along with the rationality of irony, is, when all's said and done, the best and healthiest of drugs, particularly when obtuse authorities are trying to repress every citizen who has any ideas about freedom.'
Fo, `The Invention of Drugs', La marijuana della mamma è la piu bella, 1976, p. 23.
'Not one of his most accomplished plays. Perhaps more similar than others to the early farces, but substituting moralism for irrational mechanisms, on the pretext of providing a lesson rather than a crazy outburst. There is probably a lack of any precise and easily recognisable target, necessary for Fo's comic powers, against which to strike. Its inventions are stagnant. The problem it deals with, however, is a very real one, and the discussions it provoked were effective, and no one felt inclined to attack the basis of the play, even if there were a number of negative reviews ... there were also criticisms of Fo for having produced a play which ignored the new developments of the youth movement ...'
Valentini, pp. 167-168.
'The initial impetus is excellent, and some of the gags (like the grandfather's surreal monologue and LSD trip) ... are of a high standard. Less plausible from a theatrical point of view is the series of strictly didactic speeches, where the counter-information aspects break the farcical structure ... But when the antidote of satire restores the balance of this thesis play and reaches the extremes of lunacy that are a trademark of Fo's plays, the play displays an inventiveness and comic force.'
Cappa & Nepoli, p. 117.
(aka All House, Bed and Church) (Tutta casa, letto e chiesa)
Monologues by Franca Rame and Dario Fo
First production: Palazzina Liberty, Milan, 6 Dec. 1977 (dir. Fo).
Second Edition, Teatro Cristallo, Milan, 27 Feb. 1981 (dir. Fo).
Performed by Rame (as It's All Bed, Board and Church) at Riverside Studios, London, 11 May, 1982, and in April, 1983, at the Edinburgh Festival in August 1983, and on tour in the USA in 1986, beginning at the American Repertory Theatre, Cambridge, Mass. in May, 1986.
British and Irish productions: (as Female Parts, trans. Margaret Kunzle, adapt. Olwen Wymark, dir. Michael Bogdanov, with Yvonne Bryceland) National Theatre, London, 26 Jun. 1981. Glasgow Theatre, Scotland, August, 1982; Borderline Theatre Company, Irvine, Scotland, Jan. 1983; Project Arts Centre, Dublin, 17 Feb. 1983; Northern Lights Theatre, Yorkshire, June 1983; Worcester Repertory Company, 13 Feb. 1984; Contact Theatre, Manchester, June 1987 (dir. Sheryl Crown);(2nd Edition, as The Fourth Wall, trans. Gillian Hanna, dir. Penny Cherns, with Paola Dionisotti) Monstrous Regiment, the Drill Hall, London, March 1983.
North American productions: Pepsco Summer Fair, Novoton, USA, 21 July 1982; The New Stagecraft Company, New York, 4 Nov. 1982; The New Rose Theater, Portland, Oregon, 3 Mar. 1983; H.T.Studios, Toronto, Mar. 1983; Empty Space Theater, Seattle, Spring, 1984; Los Angeles Actors' Theater, 1984. (1st and 2nd Editions, as Orgasmo Adulto Escaped from the Zoo, adapt., dir. and performed by Estelle Parsons) Public Theater, New York, 27 Jul. 1983. Orgasmo Adulto Escaped from the Zoo performed and directed by Shelley Mitchell, No Exit Theater, San Francisco, 6 November 1998.
Australian productions: Nimrod Theatre, Sydney, 10 Feb. 1982 (dir. Fay Mokotow); T.N! Theatre, Brisbane, 24 Mar. 1982; Winter Theatre, Fremantle, 4 Jun. 1982; Theatre ACT, Canberra, 8 Oct. 1983 (dir. Anne Harvey); Universal Theatre, Melbourne, Feb. 1984 (dir. Lois Ellis, with Evelyn Krape). 2nd Edition (as Whore in a Madhouse, trans. Gillian Hanna) Belvoir St. Theatre, 11 April 1985.
A series of monologues dealing with female oppression. In Waking Up, a working class woman goes through her morning chores preparing for work and to take her baby to the nursery, but cannot find her key. In order to work out where she has left it, she retraces everything she has done since arriving home the night before, including a prolonged argument with her husband - who sleeps throughout the play - about the injustice of her situation. Having found the key, she realises that it is Sunday. In A Woman Alone, an attractive housewife is locked in the house by her suspicious husband, whose brother, confined to a wheelchair, gropes at her periodically, while a peeping-tom spies on her from the building opposite. She recounts her life story to a neighbour, telling her of a sexual escapade with her English teacher, who appears and harasses her, followed by one of her husband's creditors. At the end of the play, she takes a gun and shoots all the men who are oppressing her. In The Same Old Story, a woman falls pregnant to her left-wing, intellectual lover, whom she cannot persuade to be considerate of her. In a prolonged, scatological children's story, she tells about a little girl with a dolly who uses swearwords, and influences her to marry a engineer who exploits her as a sex object. After the engineer tries to kill the doll, she blows him up until the explodes, and ends up under a tree with a group of other girls who all have 'the same old story.' In Freak Mother, a woman becomes a hippy in order to pursue her son, who has joined a commune of 'Metropolitan Indians.' After experimenting with promiscuity, becoming a witch, and resorting to crime, she hides in a church, where she recounts her story to a priest in confession. Then there is a Medea based on the popular shows of the magicians of Umbria and Tuscany, a Medea who does not kill her own children out of anger and jealousy, but out of her awareness that the children are the links of a chain society hangs around the neck of women 'like a heavy wooden saddle that makes us easier to milk and easier to mount' (from the Riverside programme).
The 2nd edition of the show added a Prologue developing an extended word-play on the names of male and female sex organs. Other pieces added later were Contrast for a Single Voice , in which a woman gains the upper hand in seducing her silent suitor by tricking him into believing her parents are sleeping in the next room and he must be extremely furtive. A Roman Lysistrata recounts a brief version of Aristophanes' play in Roman dialect. Other monologues Rame performed were Monologue of a Whore in a Madhouse, in which a prostitute tells her life story to a psychiatrist interviewing her in a mental institution. In Alice in Wonderlessland Carroll's Alice is cast adrift in a porno-world of sexual harassment run by a porno film director, a monkey who is a friend of the white rabbit, and ends up being produced on a conveyor belt as a compendium woman. Michele Lu Lanzone is a monologue taken from The Worker Knows 300 Words. Rame also performed two monologues about the Baader-Meinhof group. In Ulrike Meinhof, the German terrorist-activist recounts her experiences of 'sensory deprivation' in Stammheim, and condemns the complicity of the European bourgeoisie and intelligentsia with the oppressive legislature of the German state. In 'Tomorrow's News' Irmgard Moeller tells the story of her 'suicide' in Stammheim, presenting a scenario in which she is stabbed by a number of guards. In 1983 three further monologues were added (and sometimes performed with the two-hander Open Couple). In The Rape (also known as I Don't Move, I Don't Scream, My Voice is Gone) a woman is abducted, tortured and raped by three men in a van, who finally dump her in a park. She finds herself unable to go through the ordeal of reporting the rape to the police. In The Mother a woman discovers on TV that her son has been arrested as a terrorist. She is strip-searched when she visits him, and has a nightmare in which she strangles him during his trial. In Coming Home a woman leaves her husband in disgust at his using her as a sexual convenience, and sleeps with a colleague in a sordid hotel room. In the evening, drunk, bewildered and exhausted, she returns home in a heavy fog, and is reconciled with her husband in a darkened bedroom. In the morning she discovers she is in the wrong apartment, with the wrong family and the wrong husband.
'I would never have been able to write female characters that were substantial enough, and - without being modest about it - which have a certain weight, if it hadn't been for Franca. She is a formidable critic and has an extremely good theatrical ear. This is not by chance, but because of the fact that she was literally born on the stage, and as a result breathed the air of performance before she was even aware of it. Franca's input, not only in drafting characters that involved her directly, but in the overall construction of the comic-grotesque-satirical situation of the plays, has always been a theatrical resource for me.'
Fo, in Il teatro politico di Dario Fo , pp. 149-150.
'... Not a play, or a drama, or even a farce. They are bits and pieces of reality that fly through the air and land on us, eliciting wry smiles and uncomfortable admissions.' S. Borelli, L'Unità, 11 Dec. 1977.
'... High grade feminist farce ... This, of course, is against the English tradition. We tend to put serious business into straight plays and reserve popular forms, like panto, farce and sitcom, for trivia.'
Michael Billington, The Guardian, 28 Jun. 1981.
'The pieces are comic, grotesque, on purpose. First of all because we women have been crying for two thousand years. So let's laugh now, even at ourselves. And also because a certain gentleman of the theatre, who knew a lot, a certain Molière, used to say: When you go to the theatre and see a tragedy, you identify, empathise, cry, cry, cry, then go home and say, 'What a good cry I had tonight,' and you have a good night's sleep. The social significance went by like water over glass. But for us to provoke you to laughter - and it's always Molière who speaks - you have to have a brain, you have to be alert ... to laugh you throw open your mouth and also your brain and into your brain are hammered the nails of reason. We hope tonight that someone will go home with his or her head nailed down.'
Rame, 'Prologue,' 1981, adapt. Estelle Parsons, Orgasmo Adulto, p. 4.
'Why does this show, which is so anachronistically ideological, so irritatingly didactic, so intolerant of mediations, and so explicit in its propaganda, work? In a word - bravura. The bravura of a text full of traps, deviations, games and well-chosen exaggerations; the bravura of a performer who uses a style developed in common with Dario Fo, but which she takes off in her own direction, with a flair for paradox, verbal compression and non-acting, and a refusal of illusion which is not ideological but practical, and completely personal and admirable.'
Ugo Volli, La Repubblica, 27 Sept. 1981.
'In Italy she is a star, and she acts like a star. While her text, delivered rather casually, relies on music hall broadness and speaks of women in chains, everything about her being triumphantly attests to the power of female sexuality. It Italy this may sugar the pill; in Britain ... it looks like a case of wading in into one of feminism's embarrassing grey areas.'
Victoria Radin, 'Good Shape', The Observer, 16 May 1982.
'What most immediately strikes one about Franca Rame is that she is sexy. But rather than serving to undermine the message of her plays, as her detractors allege, it is this very sexiness which gains her access to the women that adamantly feminist theatre will never reach. ... Rame's alternately coy, bawdy and careless sensuality invites women who still aspire to Physical Glamour and the Institution of the Family to relate to and sympathise with characters very much like themselves, while the poignant ironies of the situations enacted gently prod them to broach the issue of their own exploitation. ... Hers is a "popular" approach to feminism, a blend of mime, story-telling, burlesque and stand-up comedy - all traditions rooted in popular theatre - which can be appreciated by the masses, not just the converted.'
Barbara Schulman, 'It's All Bed, Board and Church', Plays and Players, Jul. 1982, p. 33.
'There is a quarter of an hour of great theatre in ... Franca Rame's new show ... the monologue of The Rape. Few know it, only her close friends, but the actress is playing herself: she transposes an appalling experience which actually happened a few years ago (a kidnapping and rape by a group of fascists in the darkness of a van) into pure theatrical expressiveness. Beyond the moral and political impetus which has propelled this fiercely committed performer for years on the civil rights front, the gamble of "replaying oneself" on stage is an enormous challenge. Rame meets it completely, insofar as she manages to overcome any naturalistic identification, while still conveying all the horror of the degradation she underwent.'
Guido Davico Bonino, La Stampa, 18 Feb. 1984.
Tale of a Tiger and Other Stories (Storia della tigre e altre storie)
First production: Palazzina Liberty, 2 Feb. 1978 (dir. Fo). Annotated version included in TV programme Tricks of the Trade, RAI 3, March 1985. Updated version (with Prologue about Tiananmen Square) performed at a solidarity rally for Chinese students, Milan, Spring 1989.
First British performance: of Tale of a Tiger by Chris Adamson, Essex University, 25 Mar. 1987 (trans. Ed Emery, dir. Chris Adamson).
First US performance of The Story of the Tiger Charlestown Working Theater, Boston, October 1989 (trans. and dir. Ron Jenkins, perf. Tommy Derrah).
Australian performances of Tale of a Tiger, Zootango Theatre, Tasmania, Oct. 1987 (trans. Ed Emery, perf. Ian Laing), Seymour Centre, Sydney, 12 Feb. 1992 (dir. Anni Finsterer, perf. David Wenham).
'His Tale of a Tiger comes from a Chinese piece which Fo says he saw delivered by a peasant storyteller to an audience of 20,000 when he visited the Chinese People's Republic in 1975. ... The "tiger story" is a fable about a Chinese soldier of Mao's army who returns from the war of liberation. He is wounded and takes refuge in a cave where he is taken care of by a tigress. He gets better and becomes a friend of the tiger family which he takes with him back to his village. The tigers become inseparable friends of the people and help them to rout the last members of Chiang-Kai-shek's army. The "People's Government" then takes over and doesn't approve of the tigers. An official wants them to be sent to the zoo. The "people" now have a democratic government so shouldn't need "tigers" to protect them. In the end, however, the villagers set the tigers against their new leaders.'
John Francis Lane, International Daily News, 1 April 1980.
In The First Miracle of the Boy Jesus, an 'apocryphal' gospel story, Christ and the Virgin Mary are Palestinian migrants in Egypt. Jesus is ostracised by the other children because he is Palestinian, until he starts creating real birds out of paper ones. The jealous son of the city's biggest landowners destroys the children's games, so Jesus, with permission from his father in heaven, performs a miracle on him. His eyes emit lightning bolts and the boy turns into terracotta. Mary persuades Jesus to change him back, as she and Joseph have managed to find work and do not want to have to be on the run again. Jesus does so, but gives the boy a kick in the bum in the process. Abraham and Isaac deals with the result of a bet between God and the Devil about the extent of Abraham's love for God. This is revealed to Isaac only after the Angel has appeared to stop Abraham from carrying out the sacrifice of his son. Isaac throws a stone which hits Abraham on the head, and tells his father the stone has fallen from heaven. Daedalus and Icarus begins with the father and son getting lost in the labyrinth they have constructed for Knossus, and ends with the fall of Icarus after their attempts to fly. Fo uses the story to attack patriarchal power and stress the importance of the imagination, as opposed to surrogate substitutes for the imagination like drugs, horoscopes and UFOs.
'Dario Fo does all this (performing? speaking? miming?) without using words. He moves a few centimetres and becomes the teacher, then becomes the pupil, strains his vocal chords to an almost frightening extent, saws the air with his long paws, does both the real roars and the apprentice ones, and multiplies his hands, legs and utterances to let us "see" rather than just hear the roaring class. And he succeeds. He succeeds because he has adopted everything that's been going around the theatre theory scene about gesture, mime, the giullare, body language, metaphor and audience involvement, and he incorporates it all into the sole ingredients of dust and sweat, without mediators, without indirect asides, and without playing his cards close to his chest.'
Renzo Tian, Il Messaggero, 30 Mar. 1980.
'... I performed (Tale of a Tiger) in public for a good two years using only improvisation, and I only decided to write it down fairly recently ... The first performance of this giullarata took place in Florence several years ago ... I decided to try a new piece. I had made a rough draft of the story, but it wasn't written down, the sequence of various passages was in my head ... and then I took off! ... No one, not even Franca, knew I was going to try it out. It was a surprise for the whole company. The performance lasted exactly twenty-five minutes. It was an immediate success ... But I'd made mental notes that a lot of the elaborations didn't quite work yet, and there were useless repetitions ... passages that were underdeveloped, or too descriptive ... and a lot of approximation. The next day I listened to the tape (of my performance) ... Ten days later, after more cutting, editing and compressing, finally The Tiger lasted fifty-five minutes. It might seem paradoxical, but it's true. In the theatre, often when you cut words the playing time expands because pauses, laughter, and the enjoyment of the actor and the audience come into play.'
Fo, Manuale minimo, pp. 215-216.
Trumpets and Raspberries (Clacson, trombette e pernacchi)
First production: Cinema-Teatro Cristallo, Milan, 14 Jan. 1981 (dir. Fo).
British productions: (as Hooters, Trumpets and Raspberries, trans. R.C.McAvoy and Anna-Maria Giugni) Riverside Studios, 3 Jan. 1984 (reading, dir. George Byatt); (as Trumpets and Raspberries, trans. McAvoy & Giugni) Palace Theatre, Watford, 4 Oct. 1984, and Phoenix Theatre, London, 15 Nov. 1984 (dir. Roger Smith); Borderline Theatre, Murray House Theatre, Edinburgh, Aug. 1985 (dir. Morag Fullerton).
American productions: (as About Face, trans. Dale McAdoo & Charles Mann, dir. Andrei Belgrader, Yale Rep. Theatre, New Haven, 8 April 1983; Eureka Theater, San Francisco, Aug. 1986,; Tomi Park Royale Theater., New York, 1 Nov. 1987 (dir. Richard Seyd).
Australian productions: (trans. McAvoy-Giugni) Melbourne Theatre Company (dir. John Sumner), 8 Nov. 1985; T.N! Theatre, Brisbane, June 1986, Theatre South, Wollongong, June 1986 and Seymour Centre, Sydney, Jan. 1987 (dir. Des Davis); West Australian Theatre Company, Perth, Sept. 1986 (dir. Simon Phillips). (trans. Tony Mitchell, adapt. Greg McCart) New Moon Theatre, Queensland, 18 Sept. 1985 (dir. Helmut Bakaitis); TAU Theatre, Canberra, 16 June, 1987 (dir. Tina Van Raay); State Theatre Company, Darwin, June 1987, (dir. Aubrey Mellor).
Antonio Berardi, a Fiat worker, unwittingly rescues Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli from a car accident following a botched attempt by terrorists to kidnap him. Agnelli's face is disfigured in the crash. After Antonio flees, leaving his jacket over Agnelli, the latter is mistaken for Antonio and undergoes plastic surgery, giving him Antonio's face. Antonio's wife Rosa takes Agnelli home from hospital, believing him to be her husband (the real Antonio has been living with his mistress, Lucia). Antonio goes into hiding for fear he will be implicated in the terrorist kidnapping, but police suspicions are instead directed at Agnelli. In the ensuing confusion of identities, Rosa believes Antonio and Agnelli are one and the same person, and Agnelli persuades her to hide him. The house is invaded by rival factions of the Italian secret police in a series of disguises. Agnelli reveals he has plagiarised Aldo Moro's letters to the government, requesting an exchange of political prisoners for his safety. The request is successful, proving that wealthy industrialists have more political weight than prominent politicians.
'At the end of one of the first performances ... three women, relatives of prisoners from Trani, got up on stage and asked if they could read a document. The document ... was simply a complaint which they ... had sent to the magistrate in that city. ... in the eyes of the three journalists who reported on the evening, ten people out of the seven hundred plus who packed the theatre were transformed into a tidal wave, a chorus of indignant revolt. The document, which was published in (a number of left-wing Italian newspapers) was transformed into a bulletin for the Red Brigades, even a proclamation calling for a general revolt.'
Fo, 'Newspaper Terrorism', in Clacson, trombette e pernacchi, 1981, p. 101.
'The years go by, and along with them new political developments, but Dario Fo remains the most abrasive figure in Italian theatre, and goes on putting a finger in the eye of his audience, while his polemical objectives are never small or insignificant ... the important thing missing from this play is terrorism, the real variety, that kidnaps and kills. It is not merely a question of secret services and the interests of "the authorities" in having victims! Fo refuses to deal with it, certainly not out of any complicity, because he is totally removed from guerilla logic ... a restricted argument which loses its bite and lapses from satire into preaching, a political lapse that is also theatrical.'
Ugo Volli, La Repubblica, 17 Jan. 1981.
'It's true, Fo is repeating himself but then so do most great artists. Someone will say that great artists don't waste their energies on propaganda but express their views in metaphors. This is true, too, but Dario Fo has created a genre of political farce that nobody else can do as well as he. His plays are very much about Italian politics but they translate surprisingly well ... Though there is as always a certain amount of ideological confusion in Fo's new play ... the satire is on target ... absurd situations in the great traditions of theatrical farce on the case of mistaken identity of twins, such as dramatists from Plautus to Goldoni have exploited to the full.'
John Francis Lane, International Daily News, 21 Feb. 1981.
'Targets include not only Italian plutocrats and the red-faced Red Brigade, but also everyone from Yuri V. Andropov to James G. Watt and everything from microsurgery to macrobiotics. Nothing is sacrosanct, least of all the theatrical form. Actors step out of character and address the audience, the walls have eyes and the windows have feet ... In a time of media-minded revolutionaries and laboured industrial relations - and in a theatre in which political satire is otherwise close to a secret - Dario Fo is a maestro and About Face is a bracing antidote to the news.'
Mel Gussow, New York Times, 17 Apr. 1983.
'Even with Agnelli's final paean to economic power, in New Haven the play hardly offers the universal affront that it poses in Milan. ... Moreover, Fo's political critique is more complex and sophisticated than an American audience may be used to, especially in the theatre, for Fo not only jabs the bourgeoisie and the powerful, or simply pits left against right. He also criticises the left from the left and presents various viewpoints within a broad political spectrum, none of which fare too well under his scrutiny. This complexity is difficult to transfer to America where the left is often perceived and referred to as a single, unified, Soviet-inspired position. But instead of undertaking the difficult task of finding a way to translate the play into a version that could explore these issues for an American audience, the Yale Rep production remains in safely distant Italy.'
Alisa Solomon, Performing Arts Journal no. 20, 1983, p. 65.
'Fo remains consistent in a theatrical form which speaks the language of politics and ideology to the point of verbose preaching and to the limits of a public debate, and defends his exclusive speciality, the ever-more indiscriminate and mechanical entertainment of an audience which has reached very high figures at his plays. The theatrical quality has declined, and instead of a unified inventiveness and a consistently sustained central idea there is a rigid, schematic application of infantile or simplistic pedagogical and political conceptions.'
Sergio Colomba, La scena del dispiacere, Ravenna/Longo, 1984, p. 189.
Obscene Fables (Il fabulazzo osceno)
First performance: Cinema Smeraldo, Milan, 11 Mar. 1982 (dir. Fo).
British production: Young Vic., London, 31 Mar. 1987 (trans. Justin Gregson,
dir. Michael Batz).
Australian production: Adelaide Festival, March 1988, (trans. Ed Emery, perf. Lenny Kovner)
'His first tale concerns the revolt of a large band of Bolognese citizens in 1324. The revolt is not prominently featured in history books, for reasons that become apparent as the story unfolds. After they suffered huge losses in misguided religious wars, angry Bolognese citizens rebelled against papal legates and the Provençal troops protecting the Vatican's emissaries. The papal delegation, well-supplied with food and whores inside a fortress, found itself besieged by a people's army that used the only weapon available to it at the time: its own excrement. After eleven days, during which excrement was constantly thrown over the fortress walls, the refined papal sensibilities could take no more. The Provencal troupes and legates left the region under a shower of human ordure.'
Joel Schechter, 'Dario Fo's Obscene Fables', p. 88.
The Bologna Riot is followed by The Butterfly Mouse, a 12th century sexual fable about a wealthy but simple-minded goatherd who is tricked on his wedding night by his wife. She has been married off to him to avoid the scandal arising from her affair with the local parish priest. When her new husband finally returns from a wild goose chase, she, tired from frolicking with the priest, tells him she has left her sex (the 'butterfly mouse') at her mother's house. The goatherd goes there and is given a cardboard box with a cloth and a mouse in it, and told not to open it until he gets back to his wife. But he opens it and the 'sex' escapes. When he returns empty-handed and exhausted to his wife, she takes pity on him and shows him where the 'butterfly mouse' really is. Lucio and the Donkey is loosely based on Apuleis' The Golden Ass. A poet suffering from 'phallocratophantasmagoria' tries to transform himself into an eagle, but ends up as a donkey, who is then forced to carry the beautiful daughter of a wealthy family. He is constantly kicked in the testicles by all and sundry, but manages to rescue the girl from brigands and return her to her parents. They try to gratify his insatiable sexual appetite with horses. They then discover he can write, and sell him to a circus, where he is rented out to an aristocratic lady for sexual purposes, and he takes part in a live sex act with a slave girl. He discovers the antidote to his transformation potion and changes back into a man. He then seeks out the aristocratic lady, who rejects him since he is now only a man. The fourth monologue is Ulrike Meinhof, performed by Franca Rame as an 'obscene tragedy' of modern times, and used to focus attention on the Italian 'supergrass' laws for `repentant' terrorists.
'Obscene Fables is a text which originated directly on the stage, quite unexpectedly. Dario had adapted an improvised scenario from a picaresque French fabliaux ... and called it The Butterfly Mouse. He revised and changed it for me ... I was supposed to perform it ... The general structure of the piece was certainly profoundly poetic, on the same level as the best giullarate in Mistero buffo, but certain passages ... were so crude in their erotic satire, and so ruthless in their paradoxicality, that they made me feel uneasy. I would have had to do violence to myself to manage to play it: the perennial condition of sexual inhibition of a woman faced with the blackmailing myth of modesty and shame.'
Franca Rame, 'Introduction' to Il fabulazzo osceno, p. 1.
'The subjects dealt with in these fables are obscene in their character and flavour. I repeat, obscene - not vulgar or scurrilous. The main aim of the story-tellers was to overturn the idea of scandal imposed in a terroristic way by the authorities, through a play of eroticism. Erotic obscenity is used as a weapon of liberation. These days we could synthesise it into an exclamation: "Obscene is beautiful!" '
Fo, Il fabulazzo osceno, p. 5.
'Few of the tales that Fo recites can readily be found in books. He discovers them in obscure sources, invents details, and turns them into performance scenarios. In doing this he brings to the public some chapters of Italian history and folklore that went unrecorded because the scholars who preserved past culture favoured the ruling class; it was not in their interest for stories of political and sexual unrest to survive ... Fo notes that Popes and noblemen in the middle ages were free to write obscene literature, and circulate it among their friends, while stories for the general public survived - if they survived at all - through the oral tradition of minstrelsy in which Fo places himself. His narratives of repression and resistance to it are "obscene" insofar as they would have been declared blasphemous or treasonous by medieval church authorities, nobility and scholars.'
Schechter, `Dario Fo's Obscene Fables,' p. 87.
'This effect of collectivity and communality is fundamental to Dario Fo's theatre which due to force of circumstances is less militant, less ideological and less instrumental than it has been in the past, but it still does not shirk from being partisan ... Fo's improvisation, which has some definite fixed points and gags which are repeated in many performances, runs a riotous, abundant course, with deviations and self-quotations which are hardly signposted ... but also with a kind of torrential taste for exaggeration, precise but imaginary detail, hyperbole and list-making: in short a Rabelaisian transfiguration of reality into a showcase of extremely comic and monstrous animals, who move around in a dislocated and unchecked way in a world full of pitfalls and weird happenings.'
Ugo Volli, La Repubblica, 26 Jan. 1983.
The Open Couple (Coppia aperta - quasi spalancata)
One-act Comedy by Franca Rame and Dario Fo
First production: Teatro Comunale di Monfalcone, 30 Nov. 1983 (dir. Fo, with Franca Rame), also in the U.S.A, May-Jun. 1986, at the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh Festival, Aug. 1986, and Covent Garden, Sept. 1986 (with `The Mother' and `The Rape'), and in a double bill with 'A Day like Any Other', as Parti femminili, Teatro Nuovo, Milan, 9 Oct. 1986.)
British productions : Sir Richard Steele Pub Theatre, 23 Jan. 1985 (trans. Ed Emery, dir. Simon Usher), The Last Theatre Co. at Camden Studio Theatre, 17 Aug. 1993 (trans. Stuart Hood, dir. Paul Plater).
First American production: Eureka Theatre Company, San Francisco, 15 Jan. 1987 (dir. Susan Marsden).
Australian productions: Universal Theatre, Melbourne, 7 Jan. 1986 (dir. Lois Ellis); Zootango Theatre, Hobart, Tasmania, 2 Apr. 1987 (dir. Richard Davey).
In a series of extended flashbacks, events after a couple's decision to have an 'open relationship' are presented by the wife. She has undergone a crisis since her husband has started having affairs, and even tries to commit suicide with a pistol. Her husband then accidentally shoots her in the foot with it. It becomes clear that the arrangement works from the husband's point of view as long as he has other relationships, but when his wife does likewise, he breaks down and wants to go back to the conventional couple situation. When he discovers that his wife has an (invented) lover, a Nobel Prize-winning nuclear physicist and rock musician, he commits suicide with a hair-drier in the bath.
'"Open Couple" is about a couple in crisis, in which the man tries to overcome their problems with false solutions, based on a presumed notion of individual freedom, with great declarations of tolerance and rationality, as long as he is the one running the game. But it is all destined to collapse in the most dramatic way, which is grotesque at the same time, as soon as the situation is reversed and the woman communicates to her companion her own experiences, following the dictates of the mythical freedom of the open couple. The man goes off his head when the woman tells him she has decided to go off with another man.'
Dario Fo & Franca Rame, 'Introduction' to Parti femminili, 1987, p. 6.
'The contribution of Franca Rame to Fo's plays has been undervalued for a long time. Even confined to the dramaturgical aspect, leaving aside her organisation of a company which has always explored new avenues, and their work on stage in which her presence has always been most notable, a lot of things which have been traditionally attributed to her husband also, or even predominantly, come from her. The political animus, or the more simply realistic aspect of Fo's company, the punctilious attention to phenomena of the real world and its stories great and small (if we can contrast this for convenience's sake with the imaginative, grotesque, story-telling and clownish attributes of Fo), is largely hers ... This is very apparent in this piece.'
Ugo Volli, La Repubblica, 12 Oct. 1986.
'Fo and Rame, themselves a couple, finger the hypocrisy of the so-called trendy, modern liberal man who espouses equality but doesn't want it on his own doorstep, and concurrently bewail the political backlash against the ideals of 1968. It's a cleverly-constructed play, stacked against the "caring, sharing" (in this case '70s) man who wants a mother-figure for a wife plus sexual freedom with others - while always being engagingly sweet about it all. Women, the play suggests, are more loyal, less predatory and very imaginative. But no advocacy emerges either for old-style marriage or new-wave companionship.'
Caroline Rees, What's On, 25 Aug. 1993.
Elizabeth (Quasi per caso una donna: Elisabetta)
First production: Riccione, 7 Dec. 1984 (dir. Fo).
British productions: Half Moon Theatre, 31 Oct. 1986 (dir. Michael Batz & Chris Bond, trans. & perf. Gillian Hanna); Battersea Arts Centre, 31 Oct. 1991 (dir. Anna Farthing).
First American production: Yale Repertory Theatre, New Haven, 1 May 1987 (trans. Ron Jenkins, dir. Anthony Taccone).
'The action is set over the two days of a coup d'état which the young Robert Essex, ex-lover of the queen, who is still very much in love with him, has organised to dethrone her. It is 1601 and the play is set in Elizabeth's bed chamber, dominated by a huge wooden horse, which the sovereign's father used to construct an equestrian statue. From the bedroom window everything that happens in the Count of Essex's palace can be monitored. With him is Southampton, Shakespeare's patron and theatrical impresario. Elizabeth suspects that Shakespeare is not a poet who is above partisan struggles, and out of curiosity, starts reading all his plays. The queen is quickly convinced that Shakespeare's characters are talking about her and her court. Though this applies to all the characters (she sees herself mirrored in both Richard II and Cleopatra and sees the Count of Essex in Anthony), it is with Hamlet that she finds the most profound identification, not just through precise allusions, but also in turns of phrase and mannerisms ... Fo plays a female part, Donnazza, a type of witch whose job is to restore a youthful appearance to the queen, a highly solitary woman who is prepared to make any sacrifice to get her lover back and persuade him he is on the wrong track. Real events unfold as Shakespeare predicted: the cultivated queen is capable of great cruelty and vulgarity, as well as false madness like Hamlet. Behind the arras there is always a spy or an assassin lying in ambush, and after victory over the enemy at home the more serious and definitive battle with the enemy abroad appears on the horizon. Fortinbras arrives from Norway when Hamlet dies, and James of Scotland will arrive in England when Elizabeth dies.'
Anon. In La Nazione, 28 Nov. 1984.
'The action takes place in 1601, but its theme is very topical. It's about the commitment of the intellectual, and the need to participate in world events and take a position. It's worth emphasising that it's a political play, but it's also moral, and makes a statement about the function of theatre. ... (Elizabeth's) is the first modern state. She invented the secret service and modern politics. there's even a sort of Moro affair, when three lords are kidnapped and held to ransom by rebels. She, naturally, doesn't give into this, and maintains a hard line. ... The theatre shouldn't be regarded in an idealistic way, as if it dealt with stories that have no relation to reality. The intellectual should be committed, and so much the better if he can intervene in the world around him. Authority often has very similar forms, which can be laughed at.'
Fo, in La Repubblica, 6 Dec. 1984.
'It's a huge mosaic of ideas and language. Fo's Elizabeth has many obsessions: She's obsessed by Mary Stuart; she's obsessed by "thespian guttersnipe" Shakespeare who she's convinced is subversive and revolutionary and that all his plays are allegories of her life. A joke which runs throughout the play is that Elizabeth believes he steals all his best lines from her. The play is really a farce about a woman's relationship to power and about a woman growing old. Elizabeth is so obsessed with trying to regain her youth and beauty that she goes through literal torture. Here Fo's making a point about the crap that some women put themselves through: the plastic surgery, the tummy tucks, the face lifts.'
Gillian Hanna, Women's Review No. 14/17, Dec. 1986/Jan. 1987, p. 44.
'Elizabeth is an excessively bawdy, vulgar comedy too fatuous to have been a revolutionary text in the early 17th century, too unfocussed for the political satire we might expect for today. ... If we accept the premise of a deep reactionary fear of gynaeocracy, the fear that has made a harpy out of Thatcher, this is a deeply comforting piece. ... Elizabeth, to our relief, is not much more than a woman. The kindest one can say of the play is that it cuts both ways: both confirming and mocking a misogyny deeper rooted, I suspect, in Fo's native culture than our own.'
Alex Renton, 'Gloriana goes for a bust job,' The Times, 8 Nov. 1986.
'Problems like excessive literary references and a careless structure mar this theatrical practical joke, but Hanna's triumph is her recreation of Grossmith (superbly played by Bob Mason) speaking "Stepney-Italian", a doggerel which sounds like a ludicrous mix of an Elizabethan Stanley Unwin and Cockney Mrs. Malaprop.'
Anne McFerran, Time Out, Nov. 12-19, 1986.
'... What is so remarkable about Fo's satire is its humanity. It may cut to the bone and draw blood, but it's remarkably unmalicious. ... The play isn't one long laugh fest, simply because even Fo finds it difficult to keep satire afloat for two acts, especially when he has to unravel such a convoluted plot ... the play is rich with raunch and scatology - it may be offensive to the unwary.'
Markland Taylor, New Haven Register, 3 May, 1987.
'Fo's play highlights the parallels between Elizabethan imperialism and modern world politics. Some of the Queen's dialogue was taken almost verbatim from newspaper accounts of Italian political scandals. Italian audiences acknowledged the accuracy of Fo's satiric aim by punctuating their laughter with applause every time he scored a bull's eye that reminded them of current events. The parallels played themselves out so smoothly that audiences often lost track of where Elizabethan history ended and contemporary fact began. These blurred boundaries only served to reinforce Fo's contention that political injustices repeat themselves.'
Ron Jenkins, `Translator's Preface,' Elizabeth, in Theater, Summer/Fall, 1987, p.64.
'I know you are a sophisticated man of theatre who understands the use of allegory and anecdotes to make a point, so I don't want you to leap to any false conclusions about possible parallels between the story of Elizabeth in my play, and your own Presidency. Just because my play is about an aging leader whose advisers don't tell her what they're doing behind her back, a leader who tends to get confused and forgetful about certain details, don't think for a moment that it has anything at all to do with you. Everything in this play happened a long time ago to a queen who was at the end of her reign, and there is absolutely no parallel to the current situation in America. ... Also be assured that the minor urinary problems Elizabeth suffers in the play have nothing to do with your well publicised prostate operations, and that her obsessive concern with her image and with cosmetic beauty treatments has no relation whatsoever to the dying of your hair, your face-lifting, or the polyps that disappeared mysteriously from your nose. And don't let anyone try to convince you that Elizabeth's love for horses has anything to do with your image as a galloping cowboy. ...'
Fo, Letter to President Reagan, Prologue to Elizabeth, in Theater, p.66.
'Anna Farthing has wisely avoided the pitfall of so many English productions of Fo, - turning it into witless, artless slapstick - but imposes almost too much restraint on her players. ... The box of tricks is offered almost mechanically - a little bit of commedia here, a little bbit of Gerry Cottle there, a Laurel and Hardy chase there - but just as the words of a joke without timing aren't funny, so clowning without conviction is not amusing to watch.'
Clare Bayley, What's On, 6 Nov. 1991.
Harlequin (Hellequin, Harlekin, Arlecchino)
Two-act play based on lazzi compiled by Ferruccio Marotti & Delia Gambelli
First production: Palazzo del Cinema, Venice, 19 Oct. 1985.
'Four extended monologues written for the Venice Biennale on the 400th anniversary of the birth of Harlequin. In a lengthy Prologue, Marcolfa tells a story based on Giordano Bruno's play The Candlestickmaker, about a woman who discovers her husband is having an affair with a prostitute. She confronts her, and the prostitute teaches her her skills so she can win back her husband's sexual attention. This is repeatedly interrupted by Harlequin, who constructs a ship on stage and makes extended jokes about contemporary Italian politicians. In The Gravediggers, Harlequin and Razzullo are digging a grave for a suicide. They both piss in the grave, and are rebuked by a skeleton. Another skeleton appears, and the gravediggers hit and kick them. The funeral procession arrives, and a brawl breaks out, in which the dead man's brother kills the priest, and is in turn killed by the widow's lover, who dies in the process. The widow invites the gravediggers to the wake, and there is a final dance by all the dead in the graveyard.
Act Two opens with The Lock: on one side Colombina is lovingly polishing an enormous lock. Harlequin enters on the other side with an equally enormous key, which he polishes and cuddles. He asks Colombina to let him try turning his key in her lock. She gets angry at the idea of her sensitive plaything suffering such a vulgar and bulky object. They both sing the praises of their possessions; the lock belongs in heaven, and the key belongs to the emperor. But nothing can break the impasse until Colombina is hungry, and Harlequin reveals that he has a piece of bread. Colombina gives in out of hunger. The scene is played naturally, without vulgarity, and without immediately revealing the game as a sexual encounter.'
Fo, in Europeo, 19 Oct. 1985, p. 63.
In The Donkey Harlequin is terrorised by two dogs who turn out to be Razzullo and Scaracco in masks. His girlfriend Franceschina sneers at his cowardice. He then has a long conversation with a donkey, only to discover it is again his two friends in disguise. A lion escapes from a Sultan's Serraglio, and Harlequin, thinking it is his two friends playing another trick, tames it by force and impresses Franceschina. There is a final dance of animals. Two other pieces, Harlequin and the Flying Cat and The Shepherds' Song: a Journey with the Madonna, were later discarded.
'In the beginning, Harlequin was on stage for no more than a fleeting appearance. Two or three brief "comic entrances" and that was it. If they were cut, nobody would even notice. The primordial Harlequin was a superfluous character, and the action he took part in was quite gratuitous, even senseless. What's more, his actions were horribly obscene and bloodthirsty, gratuitously violent and irrational. ... He'd come on like a mindless moron, but then he'd suddenly start philosophising in the language of a Rabelaisian scholar. ... He was incongruous, unpredictable and absurd. ... There is no other mask in the history of the theatre in every country and epoch that can boast so many centuries of life and such success wherever he appeared. ... He was born from the commodious belly of commedia dell'arte, who was a real slut - one can only imagine how many lovers she had. So Harlequin has hundreds of fathers ... We're not interested in discovering the most likely father, but in discovering his gestures, his imagination, his tricks, the games he improvised, his accidents, and to learn the hops, skips and jumps, the lazzi, lampoons, rambling misunderstandings, complicated deceptions, quick changes, long-winded tirades and boasts. ...if we want to be able to perform Commedia dell'arte today, we need to improvise ... We tried to be scientific without being stuffy. Our ambition was to concoct a show made up of fragments which are as entertaining as possible.'
Fo, `A Mask Four Centuries Old,' in XXXIII Festival Internazionale del Teatro, 1985, Venice Biennale, pp. 46-48.
'Professionally I am still a product of those (post 1968) years, even though I can no longer do plays of direct intervention like Fanfani Kidnapped or Can't Pay? Won't Pay!. In the past few years I have dealt with apparently less political subjects, fromObscene Fables to Harlequin. But I believe there is still a very important difference between my work and the bourgeois theatre. Naturally, there is a technical difference, because my work continually breaks with naturalism, but there is also a difference in content and meaning in my work. My theatre is a moral theatre ... but also a comic theatre.'
Fo, Interviewed by Ugo Volli, Europeo, 19 Oct.1985, pp. 65, 67.
'In reality Fo has always been Harlequin in a sense, just as Eduardo de Filippo was always Pulcinella, in a personalised and somewhat secret way, but within a tradition. Outside Italy he is considered to be an authentic continuation of the Commedia dell'Arte, and even Mistero buffo is read in this way, which is incorrect historically, but visibly real. The fact remains that Fo has always preferred to leap from the medieval giullari to contemporary politics, keeping his distance from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the centuries of the Commedia masks.'
Volli, Europeo, p. 63.
'"Faithful" without being philological, above all to Fo, who even recycles some of his old gags (while Rame redoes her Marcolfa), and to a certain type of theatre based on improvisation and nose-thumbing at the taboos of sex and death imposed by the powers-that-be, which after the Commedia dell'Arte became farce and variety and ended up in the cinema. When he takes off his demonic mask, Harlequin does not lose his colourfulness, and Fo's face achieves a surreal minstrelsy in a collection of pieces which is enjoyable without being earth-shattering.'
Oliviero Ponte di Pino, Panorama, 3 Nov. 1985.
'... Costume, spirit, the paradox and the imagination, the authentic sources of lazzi, are all part of the Commedia dell'arte, but mingle irresistibly with other undeniable strengths of Fo's comic stage personality, which no amount of justification and research in the world will turn into a Harlequin of history. The very twentieth-century targets, from the anachronisms of satires of cabinet ministers to Fo's propensity for "gags off the wall" are, in the end, the result of Fo's stage personality, as robustly satisfying as it ever was, which tends to spill out in performance and break free from the "academic" framework of the Commedia dell'arte, in an instinctive rapport (itself authentic) with audiences in the here and now, which will not be boxed and pigeonholed. And in the end, this is itself what the Commedia dell'arte means today: the freedom to adapt to "modern" purposes a pan-European theatrical tradition ... With the innate subversive charge of the radical, Fo is today's Harlequin (at least since the death of Chaplin), and the encounter (confrontation?) in 1985-6 with academic pretensions was a liberating of his stage personality, not a caging of it.'
Christopher Cairns, 'Dario Fo and the Commedia dell'arte', 1993, p. 261.
A Day like Any Other (Una giornata qualunque)
One-act play by Dario Fo & Franca Rame
First production: Teatro Nuovo, Milan, 9 Oct. 1986 (as Parti femminili, with The Open Couple, dir. Fo.)
First British production: (as An Ordinary Day, trans. Joe Farrell, dir. Morag Fullerton), Mitchell Theatre, Glasgow, 1989.
First American production: Eureka Theatre Company, San Francisco, 7 Jan. 1988 (dir. Richard Seyd).
'A Day like Any Other is, predictably, the story of an incredibly unusual day: every moment situations that are both tragic and grotesque break out. It begins with a woman in her own apartment-office making a video tape to send as a letter to her husband, whom she has lived apart from for some time. The woman warns her ex-husband that she has decided to commit suicide. Her taping of her farewell speech is interrupted by a number of telephone calls. They are the voices of women who have contacted her in the belief that they are talking to a psychoanalyst. Her phone number has been printed by mistake in a medical magazine, with the name of a famous psychiatrist who has experimented in Japan with effective methods of curing neurosis. They all ask her for advice and refuse to acknowledge the woman's protesting attempts to explain their misunderstanding. Finally our protagonist is forced, unwillingly, to accept the role of an analyst and listen to the patients' stories, which are by turns pathetic, comic and tragic. The last voice on the telephone, which to begin with sounds like the calmest, is revealed to be that of a female doctor. Our false analyst is immediately forced by the situation to assume the classic role of a "samaritan" and try to make the "patient" see reason and convince her not to go ahead with the insane and desperate action she is about to commit.'
Fo and Rame, 'Introduction' to Parti femminili, 1987, pp. 5-6.
'Backed up by an original technological device, a video camera which blows up the performer's image on a large screen set up on the back wall, showing Fo's intention to find new solutions for stage settings, the play combines measured doses of comedy and melancholy, wild gags and pointed social observation. Fully appropriating the language of advertising from women's magazines and daily bla bla (sic), the text contains an exhaustive manual of current affectations, fashions, mannerisms and banalities, which accumulate obsessively to produce the paradoxical, surreal outbursts which are typical of Fo. The subject is brought to life and made concrete in human terms, and at times exhilarating, by the decisive contribution of the performer's intense stage presence. With her penitent gestures, her idiosyncratic timing and her dismay and stupefaction Rame builds up a multi-faceted portrait which expands from one invention to another into a fractured mirror-image - at times affectionate, at times cruel - of "days like any other" in which we find ourselves involved for better of for worse.'
Renato Palazzi, Corriere della sera, 17 Oct. 1986.
Kidnapping Francesca (Il ratto della Francesca)
First production: Teatro Sloveno, Trieste, 3 Dec. 1986 (dir. Fo).
British production: (As Abducting Diana), Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh Festival, 10 Aug. 1994 (trans. Rupert Lowe, adapt. Stephen Stenning, dir. Jonathan Banatvala).
Francesca Bollini de Rill, a wealthy banker, is doing an AIDS test on a prospective young lover when kidnappers burst into her apartment disguised as firemen. She has just told her young man that she is in fact Francesca's look-alike secretary, but manages to convince the kidnappers, and the audience, that she is Francesca. They take her to a farm house in the country, wearing masks of prominent Italian politicians to disguise their identity. It transpires that they have done her a favour, since she was just about to be arrested for bankruptcy. The kidnap appears to have been organised by Francesca's lawyer and lover, whom she has instructed to give the kidnappers two billion lire ransom money. While three of the gang are collecting the money, she manages to free herself and terrorise the fourth member. In Act Two, she rings her mother, instructing her to bring two shotguns to the farm house. A priest arrives, supposedly to bless the house, and ends up performing an exorcism on the kidnapper, who has become delirious due to his torture, and has been put in the refrigerator. The mother, who is a medium, arrives and joins in until the walls of the house start moving in. The kidnappers return with the money in a suitcase, which has a bomb inside. Only Francesca knows the combination number to open it, and she refuses to do so until the kidnappers bring her their leader. This turns out to be her mother, in cahoots with Francesca's husband, who has disguised himself as the priest, and who takes over the ransom money at gunpoint. Then the real Francesca enters, revealing that the other woman is in fact her secretary, and that she has been monitoring proceedings throughout, partly through the young man. She attaches the suitcase-bomb to the ceiling, sets the timer, and exits with the young man, only to return to assure the audience that the play will not end with an explosion. She then distributes the ransom money to the kidnappers, and promises them a job in her bank.
'This is a play in defence of rich people ... Of course Dario and I haven't got a very good public profile or reputation in this respect. On a number of occasions, we must admit, we've gone a bit overboard with our satire against the wealthy and powerful. But allow us to redeem ourselves. Nowadays we feel it is our duty to rush to the defence of the rich against the insane campaign which is being organised against them ... some people really hate and abhor the rich: magistrates, for example ... terrible examining magistrates who rise from the lower classes, and in the guise of avenging angels, beat the drum for justice being equal for all, and throw industrialists, bankers and farm owners into prison ... make no mistake, these days the workers have given up the class struggle, and the only ones who still carry it on, fearlessly but alone, and with great difficulty, are the employers. They never give up!'
Il ratto della Francesca, 1986, pp. 18, 20.
The Pope and the Witch (Il Papa e la strega)
First production: Teatro Faraggiana, Novara, 31 October 1989 (dir. Fo; ass. dir. Arturo Corso).
'Updated' production: Teatro Pergola, Florence, 25 March 1990.
First British production: West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, 1 July 1991 (trans. Ed Emery; adapt. Andy de la Tour; dir. Jude Kelly; transferred to Comedy Theatre, London, 13 April 1992).
US productions: American Repertory Theatre, San Francisco, 1992 (trans. Joan Holden, dir. Richard Seyd). Yale School of Drama, New Haven, 1996 (dir. Stephan Genn).
'The Pope (a nameless Pope, but not exactly difficult to recognise, played in grand style by Fo) is suffering from a strange syndrome: he is afraid of children, even though he has always loved them. To cure him a famous specialist ... is sent for, and arrives accompanied by a would-be missionary nun (Franca Rame in excellent form). She is, of course, not a nun, but a healer, hypnotist and "witch". She succeeds in solving the Pope's problem by involving him in an imaginary (and highly diverting) "child hunt" which sublimates and overcomes his phobia. But the Pope's troubles are far from over. He is immobilised by a sudden mysterious attack of arthritis, which Fo delights in giving bizarre scientific names to, with his arms raised and locked in a blessing. The Witch releases him from this new affliction, thanks to a ridiculous aerial massage for which the unfortunate Pope has to be harnessed and suspended from the ceiling on a chandelier. But the cure only lasts a few minutes. Informed by two very alarmed cardinals ... of the real identity of the fake nun, as well as her activities in support of legalising drugs and birth control, the pope throws her out, only to be immediately paralysed once again. ...
Unable to shake off his paralysis, the Pope visits the healer incognito in her clinic, where she dispenses low-priced drugs under her own organised medical supervision. Here, after a series of tumultuous events (a gang of drug dealers obviously hostile to her enterprise break in, the Pope is forced to inject heroin, an executioner cum drunk intervenes, etc.) the illustrious patient undergoes a "conversion" to the anti-prohibitionist cause. This conversion eventually leads him to issue a papal encyclical which is revolutionary, to say the least. An unprecedentedly vast schism ensues, and a number of governments fall in a chain reaction, leading to the (perhaps only temporary) elimination of the pope, after a series of comic failed assassination attempts).'
Giovanni Raboni, Corriere della sera, 2 Nov. 1989.
'Using the Pope was a surreal idea which enabled us to talk about the ongoing carnage that goes on right under our eyes: eight or nine deaths a day from overdoses, AIDS, hepatitis, and all the other catastrophes caused by drugs.
The Pope provided us with a device to present arguments which people perhaps no longer wish to hear, or which they listen to only with a sense of moral piety. We needed something out of the ordinary and paradoxical which enabled us to destroy the logic behind the criminalisation of drugs, since we are convinced (perhaps we are the only ones, given all the doubts that have been raised about the subject) that prison is not the way to save drug addicts. This is not a play about religion. Nor is it a satire on the Pope and the Vatican, which are not central to the play. Our concerns lie elsewhere.
Our Pope becomes involved in the situation and the problem as a victim. He is above all a man who becomes conscious, who sees reality for the first time and realises that legalisation, while it may not be the solution, is at least a recourse worth trying, and perhaps the only one that can prevent young addicts from dying on the streets. We have used his authority as a symbol to explore this paradox in a light-hearted and sympathetic way. It is a serious and involving subject, but it's too easy to dismiss it as no laughing matter. All we can do is try to deal with it in an ironic way, without demonising it. We don't laugh it off, but we don't cry over it either.'
Fo and Rame, Note to Il papa e la strega, 1990, p. 43.
'A Herodian spirit burns in this Pope's heart, and he proclaims the need for population control because "the condom is not the devil's raincoat." A grotesque situation typical of Fo: right from the beginning his Pope is placed in a gallery of crazed, surreal characters straight out of this actor-playwright's best plays, which stop at nothing, whether it be staging anarchists "falling" out of windows, or the kidnapping of Agnelli or Fanfani. He takes a highly personalised view - which sometimes I agree with and sometimes not - of the more violent aspects of our society: discrimination, drugs, terrorism. His plays are sometimes written "to the beat of a drum," following the dreams and utopias of a political theatre. But The Pope and the Witch ... is, like Fo's best plays, a text which has been "thought out": it is not a political pamphlet, rather a grotesque fresco whose protagonist is an absolutely astonishing Pope.'
Maria Grazia Gregori, L'Unità, 9 Nov. 1989.
'The most successful aspect of Fo's latest play is the fusion of entertaining comedy and a theatre of ideas. Once again a mixture of irony and sharp perception result in a successful theatrical representation of a vital and painful reality, or in this case, a most terrible and devastating social problem: drug abuse. But the particular quality of the writing in The Pope and the Witch is also notable: the play has a considerable sense of rhythm, levity and modernity of language. ... There are some quite Molière-like touches at the beginning, and a sense of fully-fledged imagination, as well as some intuitions worthy of Genet. In the second act the play bends slightly towards didacticism, but soon explodes into great comic anarchy when the pope is subjected to an overdose by the drug dealers. This is Fo at his best, most strategic and well thought-out, a metaphysical farce which is able to deal with tragedy with the knowledgeable and measured detachment of a liberating sense of laughter.'
Sergio Colomba, Il Resto del Carlino, 7 Dec. 1989.
'It's the kind of show you'll see, if you're lucky, half a dozen times in a lifetime of theatregoing. Outrageous ideas pour out in an uninhibited stream. Comic invention is piled on comic invention until you're left physically exhausted from laughter. As you wipe away the tears, you become aware that in the process of reducing you to convulsions, Fo and Rame have also confronted you with a world upside down. They have invented a Pope who puts out an Encyclical urging "the distribution of drugs at reasonable prices by all national governments." ... Fo's triumph is to make the Pope's behaviour seem entirely reasonable.'
Albert Hunt, 'Papal Bull,' Plays and Players, Jun. 1991, p. 7.
'Dario Fo's The Pope and the Witch would seem to have lost something in the translation ... it appears to have been designed as a holdall for a vast range of anti-Vatican jokes only some of which retain their ability to shock or satirise in Andy De la Tour's frenetic local translation ... the scattershot principle allows of too many blanks ... we get a collection of cartoons and caricatures and one-line Catholic gags but no real sense that anyone has worked out what to do with them or why. The result is a lot of sound and fury signifying little more than increasing desperation on the part of adaptor and director.'
Sheridan Morley, Herald Tribune, 22 Apr. 1992.
'I can only concur with the chorus of disapproval that this stingless swipe at Vatican corruption has elicited. It's too unstructured to work as farce - Berwick Kaler ... and Frances de la Tour ... go directly for postcard humour romp ... the whole idea seems to be that religious leaders with portable phones, saying "fuck", nudge-nudging with talk of shares, is enough. ... Something has gone badly amiss in Andy de la Tour's version: having worked "from a literal translation" his "adaptor's note" in the programme reads like veiled apology.
Keith Stanfield, City Limits, 30 Apr. 1992.
Quiet! We're Falling! (Zitti! Stiamo precipitando!)
First performance: La Spezia, Teatro Asta, 21 Nov. 1990.
'Cruel clandestine experiments have been carried out on the inmates of an asylum, and have produced an antibody against AIDS, which can only be transmitted sexually. A prominent industrialist (Dario Fo) who is obsessed with diseases arrives here by mistake, and decides to seduce a patient to obtain immunity against the virus. She is a poetic, mad scientist with a sexual phobia (Franca Rame), who handles toads and snakes, carries out mysterious research and believes she is being persecuted by extraterrestrial beings. To get her into bed, the industrialist funds her research and then pretends to be bankrupt and abandoned. Love ignites but before the necessary number of embraces for immunity, the word is spread about the madwoman's powers, and everyone tries to jump on her. Nonetheless she succeeds in inventing a simple, free and revolutionary solar engine which terrorises the industrialist because it is a threat to his business. Finally the madwoman lets herself be captured (or rather assumed into heaven) by her extraterrestrial friends.'
Ugo Volli, 'Indomitable Fo in the Madhouse with AIDS,' La Repubblica, 4 Dec. 1990.
'There is a certain dose of vulgarity and lines that are not exactly in a lofty spirit, but which contribute to the construction of a vortex of nonsense; there is also a certain amount of the ideological pronouncements which are never absent from Fo's work.
Franca Rame's tender, crazed character is a great creation, and there is an overwhelmingly demented plot mechanism, a good company of actors, and Dario Fo is in great form. The result is an improbable, enjoyable, offensive and rather entertaining play, which is also ... very neo-baroque. And it flies in the face of the deadly theatre of Aristotelian unities and their passionate advocates.'
Volli, as above.
'Ironically, the heavily fur-coated first-night audience almost certainly contained some of the play's chief targets ... If there is any moral to this sadly disjointed tale, it is that most of us are pretty incorrigible, and any saints around would be well advised to depart forthwith to a better world.
The staging and production were of a standard any provincial rep company would have been ashamed of. The large cast were used mainly for clowning and general rushing about, between large chunks of Fo and Rame on stage, hugging most of the dialogue. Fo ... seems ... a long way removed from the people he used to reach by performing in factories and other venues more accessible to the great masses he claims to champion. At 64, the court jester has become emperor, and this particular emperor hasn't many clothes on anymore.'
Della Couling, 'A cautionary tale with no moral,' The Independent, 7 Jan. 1991.
Johan Padan Discovers the Americas (Johan Padan ala descoverta de le Americhe)
Monologue in two parts (with a Prologue).
First production: Trento, Teatro Romana, 5 Dec. 1991 (dir. Fo).
Johan Padan escapes from the Inquisition in Venice on a fishing boat bound for Spain. He reaches Seville, where he gets a job making and setting off fireworks, and then as a banker's scribe writing fraudulent letters of credit. When he is discovered by the Spanish Inquisition, he escapes on Columbus' fourth voyage to the Americas, where he is forced to look after the animals. After Indians are taken on board, Johan begins to learn their language, and becomes an interpreter for the Spaniards. After a storm, Johan and four other animal attendants are left behind with the Indians when the rest of the Spanish crew take off in lifeboats. They attach themselves to the pigs, who tow them through the sea to the coast. They are then sold as slaves and carried off by another group of Indians in canoes to Florida. Johan survives an attempt at cannibalism, and after saving the life of the village shaman and predicting a storm, he is proclaimed a saint and leads the villagers south. After two months, they meet a group of Incas, who refuse to acknowledge Johan's saintly authority because he is too similar in appearance to the Spaniards. Johan performs two miracles - a 'fishleap' in a lake at full moon which provides fish to eat, and a comic rain dance which turns a drought into a flood. After he and his Indian followers successfully ambush a group of Spaniards with Indian prisoners, Johan realises that Christianity is the only cause for the Spaniards' persecution of the Indians. He decides to teach the natives - with great difficulty - the basic precepts of Christianity, with a few tropical adaptations. Seven years after his escape from the shipwreck with the pigs, Johan and eight thousand Indians arrive at the Spanish headquarters at Catchoches in Florida. The Spanish governor sets the Indians to work, but after they disappear he threatens to hang Johan. As he is about to be hanged, thousands of Indians appear carrying torches, and threaten to burn down the city. The Spaniards are forced to surrender, and are later shipwrecked in a storm after Johan uses his magical powers and consults the moon. Johan remains in Florida for another forty years, until King Carlos declares it a no man's land.
'Fo-Johan creates and populates the stage with phantasms, situations, sounds, phonemes, guffaws and improvised laughter, then in a calm, pleasant voice, proceeds to narrate another episode of his story. Then there are more improvised excursions, choruses of voices, concise rhythms, characters entering and exiting. Fo-Johan pursues the visions in his mind, seizes them, elaborates on them, embellishes and transports them into the realm of comedy with his counter-attacks and unsynchronised gestures. The audience's imagination is stimulated. It sets off in pursuit of the narrator-character's visions, participating in and inhabiting with him this fantastic theatre. Fo-Johan oscillates from one side of the stage to the other, becoming agitated, constructing characters and objects with his own idiosyncratic, caricatured, allusive gestures, and integrating them into his own pataphysical world, without leaving any loose ends. He is as adventurous as an acrobat, moving from one invention to the next. Situations are built up and developed to their maximum degree of theatricality. Fo-Padan, the juggler of languages, takes you by the hand, captures your imagination and sense of abandon and takes you with him on this journey into the imagination. Then he leads you back into the narrative, changes gear, and lets you go, only to lead you off again into a vortex of situations, as if in an embrace, right up to the "discovery of the Americas." Through this game of intelligence, this jongleur's journey, Fo also demonstrates his own sympathies, his attitude towards this historical event which is celebrated by everyone, but which in Johan Padan's view we should be ashamed of because of its abuse of unprotected natives. Fo works inside your head while he tickles your stomach. Fo the actor describes, comments on and constructs grotesque situations, orchestrating voices, stories and objects. His imagination elaborates on characters, animals and other elements, at times debasing and degrading images to an almost obscene level, only to immediately raise the tone. His comic tone becomes confused with a poetic tone, his vocal and gestural mannerisms multiply into a unique chorus, a unique concert.'
Mario Mattia Giorgetti, Sipario , March 1992, p. 2.
'Considering Fo's age ... and the energy it takes to perform a one-man show for over two hours, this may very well be one of his last major solo pieces. Johan Padan is an appropriate crowning for the giullaresque phase of his long career - a mature, well-balanced, multidimensionall work, a masterpiece that rates with Mistero buffo..'
Antonio Scuderi, 'Framing and Improvisation in Dario Fo's Johan Padan, Theatre Annual 49, 1996, p. 85.
Seventh Commandment: Steal a bit Less No. 2 (Settimo: ruba un po' meno 2)
A Monologue in two acts by Dario Fo and Franca Rame
First production: Carrara, Teatro Animosi, 20 Nov. 1992 (dir. Fo).
A long, topical monologue about Italy's corruption scandals of the early 1990s, performed by Rame in front of a triptych of 108 photographs of politicians, businessmen and state officials implicated in the Milan Tangentopoli scandals. Sketches deal with corrupt officials' secretaries committing suicide, the activities of Mario Chiesa of the Socialist party, who tries to flush 37 million lire down the toilet, and 'clean hands' magistrate Antonio Di Pietro. The trivia of Italian TV chat shows is parodied, and the nihilism of the 1990s contrasted with the naive political activism of the 1960s. Andreotti and other corrupt government politicians are satirised, as well as the new mood of festivity and excess which the scandals have generated. 'A Tragedy of Jealousy' recounts a news story of a family where the son is having an affair with his mother-in-law, and the couple are discovered and killed by the father and daughter. Rame then relates stories from her adolescence and about her marriage and her son's adolescent sexual activities. After satirising the Northern League, she constructs a hell full of corrupt politicians, where the pope pays a visit. There is a utopian 'happy end' where scandals such as the Piazza Fontana bombings, the plane shot down at Ustica, the bribery scandals, the squalid conditions in hospitals, the dominance of the country by industrialists and the Mafia, and the political partitioning of RAI TV and other mass media are all resolved.
'About twenty-five years ago Franca and I staged a play called Seventh Commandment: Steal a bit Less. It was an absurd, paradoxical story about building speculation in a cemetery. A bunch of rogues were running a black market in corpses, and taking bribes for graves and even council coffins. It reached the point of evacuating the whole cemetery to turn it into land for building on. Recently we discovered we had been robbed. You can read about it in the newspapers: a whole army of building inspectors and contractors have stolen our idea, our plot and even the paradoxical technique we invented to rob and swindle public institutions, and naturally without paying us a single lira in royalties. What thieves!
So Franca and I decided to get our revenge. For the 1992/93 season we would put on a play where, without too much fantasy or absurdity, as there's no need, we would narrate this dance of thieves that is coming to light every day like an enormous, impossible fireworks display. ... Every time we narrated one of these impossible events we would project on to a screen upstage the newspaper article which proved that it was true. But make no mistake, as we are honest people, we will pay royalties to these geniuses of fraud and theft who have invented the greatest masterpieces of administration in the world'.
Fo, 'The thieves' ball,' Sipario, November 1992.
'A tourbillon of cops and robbers taken word for word from current affairs to prove that at the moment reality has surpassed satire. Dario Fo and Franca Rame have written it in a hurry but the text is like Penelope's loom: something is always added every morning, because every morning Tangentopoli offers something new. And they observe the effect on the audience: Fo as director and Rame alone on stage with a lectern and a pile of newspapers in a monologue lasting more than two hours which nails the audience to their seats. '
Manuela Zadro, 'Dances with Thieves,' La Repubblica 22-23 Nov. 1992.
Dario Fo Meets Ruzante (Dario Fo incontra Ruzzante)
Two-act play, based on texts by Angelo Beolco (Ruzzante)
First production: Teatro Nuovo, Spoleto, 8 July, 1993.
Dario Fo Performs Ruzzante (Dario Fo recita Ruzzante)
First production: Florence, 1995.
A series of monologues and short plays adapted from Ruzzante. 'The Oration' is an address given by Ruzzante to Cardinal Marco Cornaro in 1521, in which he asks the church to change its laws so that peasants no longer have to fast, wear clothes, or make love in moderation. He also asks them to legislate against poets and writers using refined language, for priests taking wives, and against the discrimination against peasants by the citizens of Padua, and to allow peasants to have four spouses. In 'Galileo Galilei' a doctor and the peasant Nale discuss the cosmos and the universe in terms of cheese, omelettes, polenta, chickpeas, etc. In 'Betìa' Nale is married to Tamìa (Franca Rame) but in love with Betìa, who is married to Zìlio, Nale's best friend, and Tamìa is in love with Meneghèllo. Zìlio discovers Betìa's relationship with Nelo and stabs him. They all believe Nelo is dead, but he is not, and he appears to a distraught Tamìa to tell her about life in hell, which is as bad as their lives as peasants. Nelo then makes peace with Zìlio, and the two women, Nelo and Zìlio decide to live together as a foursome, leaving Meneghèllo, who resolves to join them.
The second part begins with 'Life', a short philosophical treatise. This is followed by 'Bertevèlo the Fisherman's Dream', in which a fisherman finds a woman's handbag full of gold, silver and precious stones after a storm at sea, and dreams of all the food and sexual activity he will indulge in now that he is rich. His dream ends with him drowning in a sea of love and luxury. In the final piece, 'Ruzzante returns from Battle', a soldier ravaged by the experiences of fighting for the Venetian republic returns to Venice in a miserable state, looking for his wife Gnua, only to discover that she has found another man. She explains that she needs a man to provide for her so she can eat. Her man arrives and beats Ruzzante with a stick, leaving him lying on the ground. He tries to convince his friend Menato that he has been attacked by a hundred men, and then tries to laugh about his situation. Menato suggests it has been 'like a comedy,' which makes Ruzzante laugh even more.
' ... Ruzzante, thanks to his eccentricity, and the protection of his patron, Cardinal Cornaro, was able to say things with a ferocity and violence which have never been equalled, even by Shakespeare. And who knows how many of his jokes were not transcribed because they were censored. ... Angelo Beolco is a great intellectual, cultivated, curious and wise. He was Galileo Galilei's favourite author. He is a poet who took the side of the peasants, but not in any populist sense. His approach is far from populist, in fact he is very hard on the figure of the peasant. On the one hand he attacks the authorities and crushes them, and on the other he shows the peasant's arrogance and cowardliness. He shows the peasant who steals from another peasant, who is contemptuous of others simply because they have become victims, and hence objects of contempt. He also shows the peasant's racism against those who are not like him and don't speak the same language. Although he is partisan, Ruzzante portrays a peasant who is enclosed in his shell and never comes out. ... Often Ruzzante talks about being and not being. Not being present in flesh and blood but a fiction, outside of time. Being a ghost, being already dead, going to hell, which is a medieval idea of journeying to another world, before the Greeks. This is also in Shakespeare and Dante. ... It is a mechanism which he often uses to describe directly and violently what he wished was a reality but is not. This is undoubtedly a subversive element, a grotesque and satirical device which functions to expand his perspective on the world through comedy. '
Fo, in Walter Valeri, 'Dario Fo: tra Goldoni e Ruzzante', Sipario, September 1993, pp. 96-7.
Mumma! The Sans Culottes! (Mamma! I Sanculotti!)
First production: Carrara, Teatro Animosi, 6 Nov. 1993 (dir. Fo, assistant dir. Arturo Corso).
'For the title of what he defines as "a mechanical farce in the manner of Feydeau," Fo chooses the French Revolution, where the parallel between the 18th and the 20th centuries is drawn through the sanguine revolutionaries the sans culottes ... The play proceeds according to a classic scenario of role reversals and a proliferation of gags. In the guises of a magistrate and vet, Fo creates a Bunuel-like scenario with an operating table which is set up like a banquet table, on which there is a man instead of a calf. Going back to the roots of a popular theatre where death and food provoke the same kind of laughter, the actor laughs scornfully at a society which is devouring itself. But he also takes the opportunity to move away from archetypes and reprise his satire of contemporary life. The victim of the operation is a corrupt medical supervisor (we are in the times of De Lorenzo) who is well aware of the dangers facing the doctors he has authorised to operate on him, but refuses any kind of medication. Fo, after his Dame Grosslady in Elizabeth, is again in drag, complete with high heels, while Rame plays the part of a seemingly schizophrenic policewoman.'
Cappa and Nepoli, Dario Fo, 1997 edition, p.150.
'You might expect Mamma! The Sans Culottes! to be a natural, inevitable development of the play we staged last year (Seventh Commandment: Steal a bit Less No. 2): a satirical ballad for a single voice, on a 'Thieves' Ball' theme, with bribes, corrupt politicians and a chorus of infinite public and private scams. But it isn't. The structure of this play is quite different. It is a pochade for several actors, with a grotesque detective thriller plot, theatrical effects and reversals. Besides the game of deceit which transparently alludes to our current situation of a tissue of lies - about the real perpetrators of state massacres, and the obsessive collusion of the Mafia, terrorists and the more or less 'deviant' secret services - there is a series of over-the-top clown effects, which we have included not as light relief or digressions from the play's indictments, but as another way of demonstrating the horrendous political events we are living through.
At the play's centre is an event which seems to be endless: the judiciary in conflict with the perennial mendacity of those in power. A carousel of investigations conducted by some judges who are clearly respectable and by others who are clearly corrupt. A kind of grotesque dance performed, mimed and sung, inside the red-hot mechanism of which we are more or less conscious spectators or performers - a spectacle where everything is mixed up and ground down into fairground balls which are thrown at targets which are often authentic, but more often fake, and simply diversionary. ...
In this play, with its liars, thieves, demagogues, bribe-obsessed maniacs and murderers, we have not been able to privilege anybody. We have brought everyone out on to the stage, including those who prefer to remain backstage. You will find it easy to recognise them if you have been following the events and revelations that have by now surpassed our imagination. Every day we are forced to invent situations and facts that are more and more absurd and improbable, in order to escape the intrepid snares of current events. But we are aware that this kind of escape derives from the oldest mechanisms of satirical theatre from the time of Aristophanes. And the character played by Dario could be from that era, a judge who by chance finds himself conducting an inquiry which leads him straight to the truth about who organised all the state massacres (from Piazza Fontana onwards), the collusions with obscure organisations linked to military apparatuses and the police ... It's all too much for our protagonist to be able to bear, but he is engulfed by the situation.
It is a farce based on misunderstandings in which there is transvestism and absurd 'surgical operations' involving transplants of animal organs, backed up by songs and dances. I play the classical antagonist, the character who conducts and directs the game: a volatile woman police officer, appointed to head the bodyguards who protect the poor judge, who risks being eliminated at any moment. This policewoman appears to be a judicious woman, full of common sense, but we soon realise she is the craziest character in the whole team.'
Franca Rame, 'Do We Remind You of Something?' Programme Note to Mamma! I Sanculotti! Milan, 26 October, 1993.
Sex? Thanks, Don't Mind If I Do! (Sesso? Grazie, tanto per gradire)
Monologue by Franca Rame, Dario and Jacopo Fo
Based on Zen and the Art of Fucking by Jacopo Fo
First production: Teatro Comunale, Cervia, 18 Nov. 1994 (dir. Fo)
A long, rambling, comic monologue-lecture, performed by Rame in front of a backdrop representing the garden of Eden. 'The Old People' is a grotesque sketch enacting an imagined proposal by the Berlusconi government to get rid of old people by throwing them off balconies to save on pensions. A comic sketch about Loreena Bobbit's castration of her husband leads into a chronicle of some of the follies of the Berlusconi government. In 'Adam and Eve's First Sexual Encounter,' based on a Boccaccio story, the couple discover sexual pleasure simultaneously with guilt and the devil. 'Mazzapegol' presents a little sex-maniac demon kept in a sack. 'The Abortion' recounts Rame's first sexual experiences and her abortion, leading into an extended comic sketch about American gymnastic lessons in faking orgasms. It is followed by sketches about promiscuity, frigidity, post-coital sadness, impotence, pornographic films, Jacopo's adolescent sexual insecurities, ways of avoiding premature ejaculation, and the importance of zen in the sexual act. 'Where We Came From' traces the transition from ancient matriarchal societies to patriarchal societies. 'Virginity' exposes the myth of the intact hymen. 'The Clitoris' uses paintings by Fo of flowers to demonstrate the topology of the female sexual organs and the 'G spot'. 'The Male Sex Organ' explores the myths of the penis and penetration. Rame relates her own first sexual encounters, and demonstrates the need for pelvic gymnastics. The final piece is 'The Story of the Three Desires,' a sexual fable translated into the Padana dialect of Mistero buffo. A couple are granted three wishes by a goldfish, and discover that finding new forms of love is not the same as exploring new forms of sexual adventure.
'As a mother and a respectable person I am upset about being censored and restricted to people over 18. A play is not a novel, and needs to be seen before it is judged. We turned Jacopo's book into a play in which basic aspects of sexual relationships are explained, and love is celebrated as the expression of pure, uninhibited feeling based on affection. Our aim was also to inform young people and adults about the danger of AIDS. We thought that in a politically squalid, dark and confused period like this it was indispensable to go back to the personal, and start off with the essential things of life: love, feelings and pleasure.'
Rame, Il Giorno , 28 Dec. 1994.
'A fast, felicitous monologue full of imagination, combining ingenuity, enchanting mischief, poetic observations and objections solidly based on common sense, exposing the absurd cruelty of those who confuse the word love with the devil. This piece by France Rame presents at last an Eve who is modern, lucid and amiable. ... In her hands, representing hell becomes a portrayal of malice, cynicism, ignorance, pornography, pernicious politicians, abstract theology, the natural inexperience of any adolescent transformed into illness and guilt by a society regulated only by haste, the invasion of social norms and the degradation of our personal lives, which have become a repository and an incinerator for the daily violence from which sexuality and its fantasies suffer.'
Walter Valeri, Sipario, Dec. 1994, pp. 83-84.
'... Members of he audience preferred to respond to the humorous side of this semi-serious chat about a subject which is still shrouded in reticence or embarrassment or worse. They seemed to exorcise their own phobias to a certain degree, since many of the more adult members of the audience would have been victims of the same ignorance or sexual mis-education (from their family, school or a repressive society) which Franca Rame ... sympathetically confesses to on her own behalf. Not only those of Rame's generation, but also today's young people can relate to Jacopo's personal experiences, which are recounted in various ways.
The intention to contribute to the dissipation of fears and the breaking down of taboos which have always ensnared the pleasures of love is laudable. As is the call to combine sex and love (along with an implicit appeal for behaviour which will prevent the spread of AIDS). The "no frills" argument, which is backed up with some scientific information, risks turning into an anatomy lesson. But there are at least three moments in which the actress produces pieces of real theatre, moving away from the lectern which she is stuck behind for a large part of the performance (an hour and forty minutes without an interval). The first and the third of these elaborate, in a language à la Mistero buffo, where Dario Fo's hand is especially evident, a Boccaccioesque sketch (taken from the delightful tenth novella of the third day of the Decameron), which is softened somewhat in the adaptation, and a Provençal medieval fable which also provide the edifying "moral" of the whole show. ... The re-enactment of a (perhaps) imaginary American "course" for women in learning how to have an orgasm is a pure parody ...
As for Zen, ... it is mentioned only in passing. But the most notable omission, considering the open-mindedness and courage which Dario and Franca have displayed ... during their long period of artistic activity, is elsewhere. The sex which is talked about here is exclusively that between men and women, with or without love. Homosexuality remains a mere word, almost hidden, in one hurriedly pronounced and hardly convincing sentence.'
Aggeo Savioli, L'Unità, 31 Dec. 1994.
The Emperor's Bible and the Peasants' Bible (La Bibbia dell'imperatore, la Bibbia dei villani)
First production: Palasannio, Benevento, 6 Sept. 1996 (dir. Fo).
A 'supplement' to Mistero buffo , consisting of monologues performed by Fo and Rame, including The First Miracle of the Boy Jesus and The Massacre of the Innocents and some new material. 'Adam and Eve's First Sexual Encounter' and other material from Sex? Thanks, Don't Mind If I Do! is also included. There is a lengthy prologue by Fo comparing the official ('Emperor's) version of the bible with various plebeian apocryphal versions which he has unearthed from research throughout different regions of Italy. These express a far more direct relationship between God and humanity, and he also refers to current political events. In 'Pigs without Wings' a pig asks God for wings, and then uses them to enjoy himself. He goes to heaven, where he romps about with a sow, and even God is amused by the spectacle. But the pig is eventually punished, and falls into a sewer, making such a big splash that it reaches heaven. 'Two Lovers Entwined like Beans in a Pod,' a piece in Southern Italian dialect, is performed by Rame, as are the apocryphal biblical pieces Mary at the Cross and The Madonna Meets the Marias. In Abraham and Isaac God forces Abraham to sacrifice his son after making a bet with the devil. 'The Dung-Fest' is a scatological piece in grammelot based on one of Aesop's fables, with the addition of a medieval Christ figure. 'The Shepherd's Cantata' is a piece in Neapolitan dialect about a miracle performed by the Madonna, originally included in the 1985 play Harlequin::
'Two zanni spy a blackbird, then a cat, then a dog, waiting for each animal to eat up the former in order to catch them all at once. Predictably, the animals escape and the zanni have to be content with the crumbs the blackbird was pecking. This is followed by the arrival of the virgin Mary en route for Jerusalem and needing porters. Understanding Pellestrina (on the coast not far from Venice) for Palestina, the zanni attempt to take her there by a boat which is almost wrecked in a storm and only saved by invocations to the virgin who of course is present). Thus the mistaken identity gag is sustained to the end, supported by songs sung in chorus.'
Christopher Cairns, 'Dario Fo and the Commedia dell'Arte,' 1993, p. 257.
The Devil in Drag (Il diavolo con le zinne)
First production: Messina, Teatro Vittorio Emmanuele, 7 Aug. 1997 (dir. Fo).
English production: National Theatre Youth project, Summer 1999.
'Alfonso Ferdinando de Tristano, an incorruptible, progressive magistrate (who disapproves of torture as an instrument of persuasion) investigates an arson in the cathedral. Unhappy about being subjected to his investigation, the prominent citizens of the town launch a campaign to discredit him, employing a couple of devils. One of them is instructed to enter the magistrate's body "through the most suitable orifice, the anus," transforming him into a rogue, a debauchee, a hypocrite and a black marketeer. Due to a misunderstanding, the devil Barlocca enters the body of Pizzocca Gannàssa, Alfonso's elderly and ungainly housekeeper, who is transformed into a delectable, busty lady (the 'tits' of the title). Led astray by this beauty, the magistrate is dragged into court, but the she-devil allows him to be acquitted. Nonetheless he is condemned to become a galley slave in a subsequent trial. '
Cappa and Nepoli, Dario Fo, 1997 edition, pp. 153-154.
'In about two hours plus an interval, adapting situations from the comic theatre of the Renaissance, Fo tells the story of a sprightly and open-minded lay magistrate, operating in a 16th century city in the Po valley. In the course of his investigations into a sacrilegious theft, the magistrate unwittingly treads on the toes of the church authorities, who place him under surveillance. At the same time a group of devils, who are also hostile to him, cause his old housekeeper to sprout enormous breasts and buttocks. Coming home drunk - something which one would never expect of him - the magistrate goes to bed with the housekeeper turned whore, is caught in flagrante delictu and put on trial for immorality. But before they can testify, the key witnesses in the case are all eliminated ... Finally the judge is absolved of the main charges but sentenced to five years imprisonment for heresy, and rows away into the sunset with other galley slaves. These are the bare bones, but as in Commedia dell'arte, the story is embellished with various digressions and bits of comic business, some of which are organised with Fo's usual expertise as a director (for example, the shrunken devil substituted with a marionette), others based on situations that have become rather hackneyed over the centuries (the greedy cardinal who eats horse manure, mistaking it for a sumptuous feast). The over-riding impression is that in writing the piece Fo had no real desire either to organise a solid or particularly politically committed plot which goes beyond the usual equation of corruption with power, or to foreground any opportunities for added pleasure. This time his creative faculties have been absorbed in inventing a semi-imaginary language, or rather languages, which all the characters express themselves in, whether it be the Lombardian of most of the citizens or the ersatz Neapolitan of the horned devils.'
Masolino D'Amico, La Stampa, 9 Aug. 1997.
Marino at Large (Marino libero! Marino è innocente!)
Monologue in two acts.
First production: Teatro Nazionale, Milan, 16 Mar. 1998 (dir. Fo). Televised on RAI 2 18 Mar. 1998.
On the last night of December 1999, the three former left-wing activists imprisoned for the murder of Milan police inspector Luigi Calabresi in 1972, Adriano Sofri, Ovidio Bompressi and Giorgio Pietrostefani, assemble in prison. They are joined by the magistrates who carried out investigations and sentenced them, all represented by life-sized cardboard cut-outs, and the informer who gave evidence against them, Leonardo Marino, represented by a ventriloquist's dummy manipulated by Fo, who is the judge. The play begins with an analysis of the crime scene after Calabresi's murder and follows the long series of contradictions and untruths involved in the "120 lies" of Marino's evidence. Illustrated by over 100 comic strip-like paintings and drawings by Fo, which are projected as slides, it goes on to give his interpretation of thirty years of Italian political history, from the bombs in Piazza Fontana to the present, and the involvement in them of the secret services, neo-fascists, corrupt magistrates, the ultra-left newspaper Lotta Continua, the carabinieri and journalists.
'Marino is present in the form of a loutish puppet, along with cut-outs of the suspects, maps and television-style blackboards, in a family-like atmosphere which suggests a community meeting, with Franca (whose tragic abduction is alluded to delicately in the story) acting as prompt and manipulator of the images, operating the comic strips projected on the centrestage screen and already in the hands of some of the audience in the form of the instant book published by Einaudi. But the investigation-like set up and the community atmosphere detract in no way whatsoever from the performance aspect of the show, since here once again every issue becomes a spectacle, a pantomime, developed to an absurd and imaginary extreme, provoking laughter, as in the enchanting story of Johan Padan, another "con man" from Dario's great repertoire, where the fulcrum was also in the magical illustrations in a huge book which were transformed into visual and sonic action. The one difference being, as is well known, that this is a real and painful story, even though it is full of the improbabilities and the mysteries of Italian public life and fits ideally into the repertoire of the imagination.'
Franco Quadri, 'Fo, il giullare militante ritorna,' La Repubblica, 19 March 1998, p. 49.
The 999th of the Thousand (Il 999° del mille)
One-act farce, written 1959, published 1976.
First production: Teatro Mobile Globo, Milan, Sept. 1959 (dir. Fo). Also broadcast on Italian Radio.
'A "miles gloriosus" boasts that he has taken part in the expedition of the Thousand, which he describes to his fellow townspeople in the rhetoric of military publicity. Caught out by one of Garibaldi's real soldiers, the young man is saved from disgrace by the unexpected arrival of the "general" who pretends to recognise him, and drags him off with him for his next action.'
Cappa & Nepoli, p. 44.
The True Story of Piero Anghera, Who Wasn't at the Crusades
(La vera storia di Piero Anghera, che alla crociata non c'era)
Three-act play, written 1960, published 1981.
First production: Gruppo della Tosse, Teatro Stabile, Genoa, 21 May 1984 (dir. Tonino Conte, des. Emanuele Luzzati).
A large-cast play with songs, about the medieval communes and the political opportunism of the crusades. Piero Angera is a scribe who finds he is able to fly. Due to the purity of his thoughts, he loses this ability when he falls in love with his stepmother, the Duchess Federica. He organises the subjects of the realm into opposition against her husband, the Duke Oddo, on his return from the crusades.
'... This is the play that prompted me more than any other to invent new solutions and rhythms, pantomime tricks and scores of other frenetic situations.'
Fo, Introduction to La storia vera di Piero Angera, 1981, p. 7.
'The pleasure in its stylistic and formal derivations, its irreverence towards high cultural concerns, its explosion of gestural devices and popular entertainment are leavened by what seems at times an excessively undisciplined and incomprehensibly rich concept. Fo borrows unlimitedly from any theatrical forms (including Brecht) which stimulate the imagination.'
Mauro Mandotti, Secolo X, 23 May 1984.
The End of the World, or God Makes Them and then Matches Them
(La fine del mondo, o Dio li fa, poi li accoppia)
Two-act play, written 1963. Unpublished.
First production: Teatro Belli, Rome, Feb. 1979 (dir. Jose Quaglio).
Abelard and Heloise survive a world cataclysm by hiding in a sewer, and believe they are the sole remaining people in the world until they encounter a corrupt General of Intelligence and an Angel. The world is in the process of being taken over by cats in the absence of human power figures. The play deals with sexual relationships, and satirises the 'historic compromise', in which the PCI negotiated entering the government.
The Pinball-Dummy Boss (Il pupazzo giapponese)
One-act play, written 1967, published 1976.
First performed as 'The Japanese Puppet' in the TV show Let's Talk about Women, RAI TV, May 1977 (dir. Fo).
A short play in which the manager of a factory is paralysed by an electric shock during repairs to the production line because he refuses to turn off the power. A naive female worker, Armida, has lost two fingers in an accident and spent time in a mental hospital due to taking too many tranquillisers. Two workers persuade her that a new Japanese experiment, in which workers can vent their frustrations against an effigy of their boss, has been initiated in the factory. Armida discovers the paralysed manager in an office, and believes he is a 'pinball jukebox dummy.' She 'plugs him in' to a heating device, inserts a hundred lire coin in his mouth, squashes his noise and twists his ear. She then proceeds to insult him, draw on his face, and then smear him with disinfectant, creosote and other cleaning fluids. The factory boss and a doctor, who have been summoned by other workers, arrive and discover the anguished, smouldering manager.
On the Seventh Day God Created Prisons (Il settimo giorno Dio creo le carceri)
Two-act play, written 1972. Unpublished. Unperformed.
'... A direct contribution to the militant prison campaign ... The plot is based on one of Fo's most familiar comic schemes, the inadvertent confusion of one person for another. A judge is called in to quell a prison revolt; in the course of turmoil, he himself is mistaken for a convict, beaten, and locked up. In jail, he is forced to experience personally all the horrors which make up the daily lives of the inmates. When an official finally discovers the mistake and procures his release, the judge initiates such a violent, rabid campaign in denunciation of existing prison conditions that he is assumed to be insane and is locked up in another kind of prison - a state mental institution - for the rest of his life.'
Mario B. Mignone, 'Dario Fo: Jester of the Italian Stage,' p. 58.
Down with the Fascists! (Abbassa gli fascisti!)
An audiovisual show, written in 1973.
First performance: Toured in factories, workers' halls, etc. in northern Italy in summer, 1973, by Franca Rame and members of La Comune. Mammi Togni first performed in a piazza in Pavia 25 April, 1971, published 1989.
A documentary about fascism past and present, based on personal accounts by World War II partisans and contemporary political militants. Includes the monologue Mamma Togni, later included in The People's War in Chile, and urges the outlawing of fascism and the spread of 'militant anti-fascism.'
The Plates (I piatti)
One-act sketch, written 1976, published 1978, 1991
First performance: In the TV show Let's Talk about Women, May 1977.
An anarchic comedy in which a family, fed up with consumerism, game shows and advertising, start throwing hundreds of plates and smashing up their living room.
The Giullarata (La giullarata)
Two-act play, published 1976.
First production: Palazzina Liberty, Milan, 11 Nov. 1975 (dir. Fo, with Cicciu, Concetta & Pina Busacca).
A series of songs and sketches demonstrating the art of the cantastorie (singer-storyteller), beginning with The Birth of the Jongleur from Mistero buffo, and including The Ballad of Cicciu Corno from The People's War in Chile, as well as a number of songs and sketches from Busacca's Sicilian repertoire, and songs by Fo.
'... I am a giullare cantastorie ... the giullare strips the king, the bishops and government ministers down to their underpants with his satire. The people's laughter and sneers have always been the most dangerous threat to the authorities.'
Cicciu Busacca, in La Giullarata, 1976, pp. 19-20.
'The acting is done by Cicciu, who makes observations on the status and role of popular culture, quoting Brecht and stressing the connection between his ballads and the recent history of oppression. There are numerous motifs and narrative sections from Fo's repertoire in the collection. Music is the most prevalent part of the play ... '
Cappa & Nepoli, p. 115.
Eve's Diary (Il diario d'Eva)
Monologue, written 1978, published 1989.
First performance: Milan, Dec. 1984.
First US production: Artists' Foundation, Massachusetts, Oct. 1985 (trans. Cristina Nutrizio & Ron Jenkins, dir. Anna-Maria Lisi & Ron Jenkins.)
'I read Mark Twain's "Eve's Diary" and was inspired to rewrite the entire story as a madrigal. ... As it progressed it confirmed an intuition I have always had about the superiority of women right from the origins of the human race, an intuition confirmed by anthropology. This woman is an intellectual in the way she organises her life : she creates artefacts such as vases and utensils, and decorates and paints them. And even in pre-matriarchal society she introduces a different and richer form of nutrition: agricultural food. She cultivates a garden, and picks and crushes seeds, as well as domesticating animals. In my story she also invents language. When she is nearly fifty years old, Eve finds her diary and re-reads it, interpreting and explaining her life and her relationship with the idiotic Adam, whom she has given the benefit of her knowledge and her wisdom, as well as loving him to the point that he was led to believe that he as the real genius. ... My "Eve's Diary" stops at the death of Abel. The structure of the story is simple, and like some of my other plays, based around choruses. Its language was greatly influenced by Boccaccio.'
Fo, Prologue to Eve's Diary, Le commedie di Dario Fo VIII, 1989, p. 125.
The Tragedy of Aldo Moro (La tragedia di Aldo Moro)
Play in one act, written and published in 1979.
First performance: (as a reading by Fo), Palazzetto dello Sport, Padua, 21 Jun. 1979.
Written in the style of a Greek tragedy, with a central situation based on Philoctetes, a dramatisation of some of the letters Moro wrote to his Christian Democrat colleagues in the government while he was being held by the Red Brigades in a 'people's prison' between March and May in 1978. The play is set up as a forum in which Moro debates with his colleagues, and denounces the refusal of the government to negotiate with the Red Brigades as a desire to make Moro a scapegoat. The play is presented by a Jester and there are dances by Satyrs and Bacchanals. Fo discarded the play after only one reading.
'I have been working on the Moro play for a long time now, but I have had great difficulty finding a direction and a style for the second act, because current events keep on overtaking the development of the play. The powers-that-be are continually attempting to mystify the issues involved, and sweep them under the carpet. They are cleverer than I am, and always one step ahead of me. However, the political situation since the death of Moro has developed exactly as I predicted in the play. But I am left with a format - that of Greek tragedy - 15 characters, but no performance date.'
Fo, Interview on RAI Radio 3, Oct. 17, 1979
A Clown Show in two parts, written in 1982. Unpublished.
First production: Cinema Teatro Cristallo, Milan, Mar. 1983 (dir. Fo, with Alfredo and Ronald Colombaioni).
'Seven clown routines (including The Morality Play of the Blind Man and the Cripple from Mistero buffo written for the Colombaioni brothers. As well as a sketch satirising TV quiz shows, and a short trick sequence with metal rings, there is a story about the violence of the city, which ends up in a series of clowns' slaps and somersaults; a worker is turned into a robot by a new automatic production system, where he believes he can relax and drink coffee and smoke cigarettes, but is soon afflicted by an alienation not very dissimilar from that of his old work-mate on the production line. There are video games in which "one becomes a little robot in the service of a big robot, who leads you through a process which even involves punishment, exploitation, and the addiction principle." There is a relatively moral confrontation between an old and cheerful drunk and his friend who rebukes him for this disgusting vice, but pops tranquillisers, sniffs cocaine, injects heroin, and finally turns a backward somersault and dies'.
Ugo Volli, La Repubblica, 6 Mar. 1983.
'This text originated from a collective workshop begun in Perugia in the summer of 1982 with Alfredo and Ronald Colombaioni ... and their already rich and full repertoire of acrobatics, techniques and comic tricks of a wide range of clown routines, and the desire to do a show together. We began to work on their repertoire and build it up into scenes based on current issues ... I would like to develop this research into clowns further, placing it in a closer relation to Commedia dell'Arte, the origins of comedy, Buffon and so on. Naturally translating it into the reality of today, as I think we have done in this work ...'
Fo, Programme Note to Patapumfete, 1983.
'Although the sketches are entertaining and worthwhile, as a product they are much less convincing. To the observer it is the defects rather than the merits of its clown aspect and Fo's writing which are apparent. There is a certain uneasiness in the performers when it comes to straight acting, outside of the gags, and in the somewhat verbose ideological content which Fo often produces at the beginning of his plays and then modifies and prunes once he makes contact with his audience and finds the right balance.'
Ugo Volli, op. cit.
The Candlestickmaker (Il candelaio)
Monologue, written 1983. Unpublished & Unperformed.
A sketch loosely based on the general situation of Giordano Bruno's 16th century comedy of the same name, and used in a modified form in Elizabeth and Harlequin. A dresser informs the audience that the play they are about to see has been called off due to the illness of the lead actress, and begins telling them the story. A candlemaker has grown tired of his wife and begun to frequent a prostitute. The wife approaches the prostitute, who trains her in her art, enabling the husband to rediscover his wife as a prostitute.
God Makes them and then Wipes Them Out (Dio li fa poi li accoppa)
Two-act play, written 1984. Unpublished & Unperformed.
'... Written ... in the light of the new wave of revelations about the Mafia and its activities at the centre of power politics ... a wide-ranging satirical farce in the style of ... Fo's plays of the 1960s. All the characters reveal an identity different from the one they claim to be, and are involved in criminal gangs connected with top-level politicians (there is a "quasi" Andreotti in the play). The comic climax is reached by way of a grotesque device (involving a fake castration), a tour de force which takes place in the lounge of a famous criminal surgeon. It is a play of masks, involving a comic situation based on misunderstanding. Towards the end the rival criminal organisations form a consortium ... and set the surgeon up as a scapegoat. He objects, and the farce ends in a general massacre. But first the action is interrupted to accommodate a brief discussion among the actors as to whether it is legitimate to present all the characters as either negative or corrupt.'
Bent Holm, The World Turned Upside Down, chapter 4, p. 32.
Letter from China (Lettera dalla Cina)
(Sent to Paris by a Girl from Beijing) (Mandata a Parigi da una ragazza di Pekino)
Monologue, written 1989 and performed by Franca Rame.
A young Chinese student militant reflects on the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre: the disappearance of all the foreigners in fear 'like the audience at a circus when a lion escapes from its cage', and the violence of the massacre, 'like a film full of special effects'. She recounts a visit to one of her professors, who is hiding out in the country. He explains why the authorities' backlash was so violent: because the students had dared to discuss their rights and desire for freedom directly with the emperor without intermediaries, and caused a public spectacle which had never been seen in China since the days of the Long March. As she watches her comrades being arrested, the girl decides not to try and escape, and is reminded of the photos she has seen of the Communists arrested in 1927 by Chiang-kai Chek. The radio broadcasts warnings to the students to give themselves up and to others to denounce them, and the anonymous letter-writer concludes with a plea to foreign observers not to 'turn off your memories of us with your TV sets', and to sing the 'Internationale' as a way of remembering them.
Let's Talk about Women (Parliamo delle donne)
Two one-act plays, Heroine (L'eroina) and The Fat Woman (La donna grassa) by Franca Rame
First production: Ravenna, 4 Dec. 1991 (dir. Fo).
In Heroine, Rame is Carla, a 'Mater Tossicorum', and ex-Latin mistress who has become a travelling saleswoman, dealing in pornographic videos, fake mobile phones, contraceptives and other gadgets. She waits on the fringes of a public park in the outer suburbs of Milan for a drug dealer to sell her heroin to administer to her daughter, who is an addict and whom she keeps at home tied to the bed. She has already lost two sons to heroin, and dreams of taking her daughter to Liverpool, which she thinks is a good environment to get her daughter off drugs. To raise the money for the trip she also works as a prostitute. After an unexpected windfall of two bags full of money turns out to have been part of a dream, she is accidentally killed in the crossfire between two armed robbers, one of which snatches a bag of money from under her stall.
In The Fat Woman, Rame plays Mattea, a fifty-year old woman separated from her husband, who has gone off with another woman, and suffering from obesity. She has a hidden conversation with a man who visits her under the mistaken impression she is his estranged wife, and then an argument with her daughter, who is having problems with her husband and her lover. Finally she orders her daughter out of her house and seeks refuge in the solitary world of her successful invention, an electronically simulated lover. _________________________________________________________
'... These two one-act plays talk about women, about their suffering and their solitude. An abandoned woman seeks refuge in eating and a mother becomes a criminal from watching her daughter taking drugs.
I don't know if passing a law to legalise drugs is good. I do know that the present law is not a good law. I know that it causes three deaths a day and that every day there are three hundred thousand addicts who have to get through the day, snatching handbags, breaking into houses and risking AIDS. My play is about this as well. It's a show I'm very involved with because I have managed to say everything I've had bottled up inside for many years. The audience understands that, because when I perform it they pay incredible attention. They know I'm talking about issues that are a daily drama for many families. They know that what we say at the end, that after all the great battles and mobilisation for divorce, abortion and rape laws, in everyday life women are women's own worst enemy.'
Rame, in L'Unità, 14 Dec. 1991.
I Think Things Out and Sing Them (Ci ragiono e canto)
A 'Popular Representation' in two acts (Rapprasentazione popolare in due atti) based on original material edited by Cesare Bermani and Franco Coggiola.'
First production: Il Gruppo Nuovo Canzoniere Italiano, Teatro Carignano, Turin, 16 Apr. 1966 (dir Fo.) 2nd Edition by Nuova Scena, Camera di Lavoro, Sala di Vittorio, Milan, 8 Apr. 1969. 3rd Edition by La Comune, Teatro della Gioventù, Genoa, 27 Feb. 1973.
Australian production (as Dear Boss, I Want to make You Rich), May 26, 1979, Flinders University, Adelaide (dir. Antonio Comin).
'A musical show based on about a hundred traditional Italian workers' and peasant songs from various different regions which were researched by Il Nuovo Canzoniere, and choreographed by Fo.
In the first part, popular traditions, festivals and the war seen from the point of view of the lower classes were brought to life with very precise rhythms. The second part was glossier, and included a series of beautiful paintings which showed the intuitions of Fo the painter, with the work of washerwomen, a wedding, the passion of Christ according to apocryphal gospels, ending in a great crescendo with the popular anarchist song "Our Home is the Whole Wide World", sung by everyone at the top of their voices, often with ... the audience joining in.'
Valentini, pp. 98-99.
The second edition of the show, performed without Il Nuovo canzoniere, included about a dozen songs written by Fo, such as 'I Saw a King' (later recorded by Enzo Jannacci) and `Don't Wait for St. George.' The third edition included the Sicilian cantastorie Cicciu Busacca, and some Sicilian material which was later used in The Giullarata. This third edition was released on LP and cassette by La Comune.
'We were constantly concerned with philological precision, out of respect for the material, which we wanted to use as it was. We were worried that altering the songs would mean that their class point of view would not be so predominant. Dario's concern was with trying to pull the songs apart and make them more theatrical. We were constantly running into obstacles; we refused to do things which seemed absurd to us at the time, like putting on make-up and moving to a theatrical rhythm.'
Ivan della Mea, in Valentini, p. 97.
'If we don't know where we come from it's impossible for us to know where we're going' said Gramsci; but every time there is any serious proposal to do research into the people and history which really overturns the "false culture" that bourgeois education has perpetrated for centuries, then you see a lot of "revolutionaries" turning up their noses ... the bosses aren't producers, they don't cut cane, they don't make ladders or build walls and so when they have to fight on territory and with rules set up by the people, they always lose ...'
Fo, `Towards an Introduction to an essay on Popular Culture', Ci ragiono e canto 3, 1973, pp. 89, 98.
The Sunday Walk ( La passeggiata della domenica)
Two-act play by Georges Michel, translated from the French and adapted by Dario Fo.
First production: Teatro Durini, Milan, 18 Jan. 1967 (dir. Fo).
'The Sunday Walk was a fable about petit bourgeois apathy represented by the Sunday walk of a family in pursuit of its little myths and well-being oblivious to the violence and massacres in the world around it, which in the original play were the Algerian war and the OAS. In Fo's rewritten version, these become clashes between police and demonstrators, and the Americans in Vietnam. The modifications which Fo made to the text were not restricted to political allusions. Michel's play was adapted, its provocative elements accentuated, and any residue of pathos was eliminated.'
Valentini, p. 101.
'Dario Fo ... has saved all the play's intelligence, and substituted its delicacy with a bitter polemic taste, backed up by a beat group, "Oscar and the Bit-Niks" ... who become the fundamental aspect of the play, rather than the secondary element they should be ... Fo is only to blame for having adopted and stressed all the familiar arguments of political propaganda in his enthusiasm for protest ... These are wall posters which need to be filtered through other means in the theatre.'
C.M.P., Il Dramma, Feb-Mar. 1967.
The Soldier's Tale (La storia del soldato)
'Stage Action by Dario Fo with music by Stravinsky (Histoire du Soldat, Octet).'
First production: Teatro alla Scala, Teatro Ponchielli, Cremona, 18 Nov. 1978. (dir. Fo).
A free adaptation of Ramuz' libretto for Stravinsky's chamber opera, turning it into a 'choral' political satire about migration from the south of Italy, with grammelot and a cast of 32 students from La Scala instead of the 4 in the original version. The soldier-protagonist is played as a kind of Zanni, by a number of different actors, and there is a series of large-scale stage 'pictures' of the city, the stock exchange, war, a market, and a 'ship of fools,' as well as a gigantic cane puppet.
'The Soldier's Tale can be read as a kind of accusation against capitalism, which speculates on the concept of patriotism and uses the peasant, the poor devil who is eradicated from his land, and entices him with traffic, business and bogus dreams, taking away his fields and his culture.'
Fo, Panorama, 7 Mar. 1978, p. 113.
'Fo tries to turn the sanctimoniousness of the story upside down, maintaining a dialectical position towards its development. He keeps some of its essential aspects, like the exchange of the violin for the book of riches, and the story of the princess. But the devil is "for the safeguarding of institutions, for order against disorder, for a balance of payments in the black," and the soldier "could be an emigrant." The original action is substituted with not so much an alternative course of events, as a series of images, which do not proceed one after the other, but are ideally alongside one another. A kind of world theatre in which different incarnations of the soldier are explored.'
Ugo Volli, `Leggere il teatro come un rebus,' in Dario Fo, La storia di un soldato, 1979, p. 16.
The Opera of Guffaws (L'opera dello sghignazzo)
Adapted from John Gay's The Beggar's Opera and some ideas by Jacopo Fo.
First production: Teatro Il Fabbricone, Prato, 1 Dec. 1981 (dir. Fo). Revised edition, Teatro Nazionale, Milan, April 1982 (with Fo as Peachum).
Originally an adaptation of Brecht's Threepenny Opera commissioned but rejected by the Berliner Ensemble, Fo later based the play more on Gay's original play. A rock opera version, with songs based on motifs from Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, etc., in which Macheath becomes a Mafioso-type financial criminal, Peachum runs a fraud agency for drug addicts, drop-outs and social security dodgers, and there is satire on mechanisation, electrical appliances, drugs, sex and violence. Lockit becomes associated with Lockheed, and Macheath's escape from prison takes place during the Notting Hill Carnival.
'Right from the first time the Berliner Ensemble proposed I do a production of The Threepenny Opera, I immediately felt it was necessary to apply the same wilful irreverence to Brecht's play that Brecht himself advised: "When you are faced with staging a play by an illustrious author, escape from the terrorism of the classics" he insisted, "treat them without any respect if you want to show the slightest consideration for the ideas that these classics express." Personally, since Brecht himself has now been reduced to a classic, I took his advice at his word, and jumped straight into it (the play, that is), boots and all ... certainly Brecht, if he were still alive today, would have to re-draft the play, and introduce current problems like drugs, kidnappings, the international and industrialised organisation of terrorism, crime, the robot-ised sex market, low-grade mass psychoanalysis, mass media, etc., not to mention the pretty vulgar level that politics has descended to all over the world ... I must admit that nothing is left of Brecht's play, not even a single line ... there are references, but only in the form of comments, which are often in an intentional play of antithesis.'
Fo, Introduction to L'Opera dello sghignazzo, 1982, pp. 5, 7, 8.
'Dario Fo brushed off the nostalgic wickedness of The Threepenny Opera and made the shark, who had lost his teeth, bite again. His up-to-date Mack the Knife acts in a world of mass media and business crime; he is no longer the noble villain in his best suit, but a young, dynamic criminal, sitting behind a desk, whose face looks just like the faces of all these multinational salespersons. The Mack, who in the grand style production of the Turin "Teatro Stabile" was finally allowed to present himself, is a big business gigolo made in Italy, a cynic, but somehow likeable. He is the hero of a spectacle which has not much to do with the Puritan theatre of Brecht, but a lot with a parody of a Broadway supershow: see-saws, sex machines, revolving and suspended stages, acrobats as in a circus. Sure, the beggars are still begging, thieves are stealing, whores whoring, but their faces already show the death of irony and the boredom of an advanced industrial society: instead of a pub-like atmosphere there is a bright neon light, instead of Weill-sound, there is a mixture of rock and cocktail bar music.'
Der Spiegel, 7 Dec. 1981, quoted in Vittorio Felaco, `New Teeth for an Old Shark,' p. 67.
'Without politics there wouldn't be Fo - it is his mark of Zorro. But this time his aim doesn't go as deep as usual, and nudges often become merely slaps on the cheeks of politicians and bankrupt businessmen, high finance entrepreneurs and the financial police. Rinsed in the ascetic water provided by the Teatro Stabile of Turin, who produced the play, the usual red flags Fo waves with justified violence seem faded here ... Fo is sure that Brecht would have liked his irreverence, but it certainly did not delight his daughter Barbara ...'
Rita Cirio, L'Espresso, 10 Jan. 1982, pp. 68, 69.
The Barber of Seville (La barbiera di Seviglia)
An Adaptation of the Opera by Rossini
First production: Amsterdam Musiktheater, 24 Mar. 1987 (dir. Fo. music dir. Richard Buckley, televised in 1992). Revived at the Teatro Petruzzelli, Bari, in 1988, and at the Opéra Garnier, Paris, in 1992.)
A version of Rossini's opera directed and designed by Fo, with a commedia dell'Arte troupe added to the singers and the use of banners and placards with political slogans.
... This particular opera - or the Beaumarchais play on which it is based - does have a kind of relationship with the commedia dell'arte, and so has Dario Fo ... The trouble is that like most producers coming fresh to opera, particularly comic opera, Dario Fo has no faith in the music as being worthy of attention in itself ... Fo will do anything - fly a kite, paddle a gondola, sit on a swing, toss a doll in a blanket - anything to distract his audience from Rossini.
Gerald Larner, The Guardian, 26 Mar. 1987.
The Doctor in Spite of Himself and The Flying Doctor (Il medico malgrado lui e Il medico volante)
Two one-act plays by Molière, adapted by Fo
First production: Comédie Française, Paris, 18 June 1990 (dir. Fo). Revived 1991.
A highly physical, acrobatic production of two Molière farces based on the repertoire of the 16th century comici italiani in Paris, featuring Sgnarelle, and incorporating lazzi from the commedia dell'arte, a chorus and a good deal of extraneous stage business.
'Predictably, Fo retrieved from the "historic memory" of the comici dell'arte verbal and gestural elements and improvised lazzi which were surprising and sometimes downright obscene, but always highly entertaining, and which had been "behind" these farces by Molière. He then made a skilful attempt to incorporate these into the high quality acting practice of the "sociétaires" and "pensionnaires" of the Comédie, which, as is well known, is noted for an acting style which has its strong points in the effective interpretation of a great poetic repertoire. For Fo it was ultimately important to succeed in getting a cultivated, international audience to appreciate a type of theatre which is fundamentally farcical, based more on uninhibited gesture than on logical, consistent discourse.'
Federico Doglio, Sipario, Sept. 1990, p. 30.
'Viewed through distinctly Fo-vian bifocals, Molière's world became a split-level society that was to include not just the speaking characters provided for in the text, but a second social strata, an active chorus of townspeople, not-so-silent conspirators in the antics of Sgnarelle. Not for Fo the individualistic, virtuoso servant, the superhero who miraculously rights all wrongs, but rather a community working together against the old order. ...
What Fo had accomplished was not simply to make Molière funnier than ever. True, he had concocted marvels, and inspired the cast to carry it off with remarkable flair. Yes, he had seduced the Comédie Française's refined audiences into the warm enjoyment of so-called low comedy. But above all, he had used the power of raw farce to bring to theatrical life Molière's world of disguise, deception and social upheaval.'
John Towsen, 'Molière "à l'Italienne:" Dario Fo at the Comédie Française,' Theater, Summer/Fall, 1992, pp. 55, 61.
The Screwball (Lo svitato)
1956, dir. Carlo Lizzani, screenplay by Fo, Lizzani, Massimo Mida and Augusto Frassineti, starring Fo & Rame.
'Fo plays Achilles, a Hulot-like factotum for an evening newspaper, who travels around looking for a scoop in the Milan of the "economic miracle".'
Cappa &Nepoli, p. 22.
'In reality The Screwball was misunderstood because it was different to what people were used to seeing in the cinema at the time. There was an element of fantasy separate from any commitment to content, and a very effective use of pantomime by Fo. Its main defect was in the co-ordination of words and speeches with the language of images. This made it prolix, full of gaps, and using a mode of expression which had little to do with the cinema.'
Carlo Lizzani, in Valentini, p.53.
'The only film I made of any value ... (it) had its defects, but its comedy was too unusual in comparison with the low-level sort that predominated at the time. It was a precursor of Woody Allen and surreal comedy. It had the lowest box office takings of that year, and despite being a fiasco, it had pieces of good cinema in it, as is proved by the fact that it is now in the cinematèques.'
Franca Rame, Domenica del Corriere, 3 Oct. 1981, p. 44.
'The Screwball is the first character worthy of this term created by Dario Fo. Like the other figures who populate the gallery of the Milanese writer, the Screwball is a pure, candid, naive character who lacks the malice and cynicism of future Fo characters. ... The Screwball was a peculiar film, perhaps too surreal and paradoxical for its time, and it was not appreciated. Basing it on a re-invention of silent comedy, its creators wanted it to forge a new direction in Italian film comedy, which had been weighed down and vulgarised by a trivial and joky type of comedy in the films of that time. With obvious reference to Tati, Keaton, Chaplin and Ridolini, The Screwball contains a poetic germ which Fo would begin to develop systematically at the end of the 1950s when he returned to the theatre.'
Chiara Casarico, La vera storia di Dario Fo, Rome, Gremese, 1998, pp. 19-20.
Souvenir d'Italie (It Happened in Rome)
dir. Antonio Pietrangeli and Fo, 1957, screenplay by Fo, Age & Scarpelli, with Fo in the role of Carlino.
'An example of "pink neorealism," similar to the summer holiday film genre. In the role of Carlino, Fo offers a small taste of his story-telling capabilities in a brief, hyperbolic and paradoxical "tirade".'
Casarico, op. cit., p. 17.
dir. Guido Leoni, 1957, screenplay by Fo and Dino Verde, with Fo and Franca Rame.
'A parody of gangster films in which Dario Fo develops another character which will become typical in his plays, the "dumb Lothario".'
Casarico, op. cit., p. 17.
Fo also collaborated on the screenplays of Nata a marzo (Born in March, dir. Pietrangeli, 1958) and Follie d'estate (Summer Madness, 1964.)
Poor Dwarf (Poer nano)
18 Monologues written and performed by Fo on RAI Radio weekly from December,
A series of well-known biblical and classical stories performed in popular, 'illegitimate' versions, some based on the stories of the fabulatori of Lake Maggiore. The usual endings and morals of the stories are turned upside down and satirised. The stories included 'Cain and Abel,' 'Abraham and Isaac,' 'Samson and Delilah,' 'Romulus and Remus,' 'David and Goliath.' 'Nero,' 'Daedalus and Icarus,' and short, burlesque versions of Hamlet, Othello, Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, etc.
'The key point of these stories was always paradox, reversals and opposites ... Cain was the victim and not the executioner, God knew everything but was absent-minded and caused confusion which his son had to remedy - hence the story of original sin ... these reversals were not done for their own sake, but were a stubborn refusal to accept the logic of convention, and a rebellion against the moral contingent which always sees good on one side and evil on the other ... The comedy and the liberating entertainment lies in the discovery that the opposite stands up better than the commonplace ... There is also the fun of desecrating and demolishing the sacred and untouchable monuments of religious tradition.'
Fo, Preface to Poer nano, 1976, p. 5.
Fo also participated in the scripting and performance of two other radio comedy series: Chichirichi (1952-53, with Giustino Durano, in which Fo created the character of the civil servant Gorgogliati); and an 11 part series called You Don't Live on Bread Alone (Non si vive di solo pane, 1955, with Franco Parenti).
'At that time I wasn't used to performing a written text. At the most I jotted down a scenario or a few notes. I wasn't used to the literary dimension. And in fact it was absent from these texts. They were full of inserts, expressions in Lombardy dialect, back-tracking, and comments on situations. It was an expression of a tradition which had never been written down, and for which it was necessary to re-invent a form of writing.'
Fo, Interview with Enzo Magri, in Valentini, p. 36.
In 1982 Stuart Hood wrote and presented Throwaway Theatre, a 30 minute assessment of Fo's work and the problems involved in presenting it in the UK, for BBC Radio 4, which concluded that 'part of the success of Fo's work in the West End must be attributed to the fact that it can be enjoyed on a non-political level'.
In November 1985 a 90 minute radio program, Dario Fo and Franca Rame: Comics of the People, compiled by Tony Mitchell, and produced by Jane and Phillip Ulman and Tony Mitchell, was broadcast on 2FC by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.