Since its first performance on a square in the Italian seaport town of Sestri Levante in 1969, Mistero Buffo has been an extremely popular play. In Italy, tens of millions of people have seen it, in union halls, on factory floors, and most often, on public squares. Almost always, it has taken the form of a one-man show starring playwright Dario Fo himself. Over the years, the play has been amplified and revived, with eleven new scenes added for the Millennium revival. To make room for new scenes, many of the introductions to existing scenes were cut or reduced as audiences grew familiar with the history involved and with Fo’s project of reviving medieval Scriptural entertainments. The English translation (1983) contains at minimum the original twelve scenes of Fo’s ever-evolving play.
With no conventional linear plot, Mistero Buffo is a series of skits, each giving voice to ordinary onlookers at Gospel events. Introductions are provided to many of the skits, explaining their links to specific medieval images that inspired them. The tragic situations portrayed are often mitigated by comedy.
Much of the play’s popularity in Italy has been due to Fo’s performances of it. Such performances are usually free, and, given Fo’s high profile as a controversial public figure and broadly comic actor, they often draw large audiences. Fo’s approach to the play builds on traditions with which Italians are familiar of open air performances and speeches given in public squares. Beyond Italy, Western audiences in general have found appeal in the play’s snippy, borderline irreverent tone and its mild slaps in the face...
(The entire section is 680 words.)