Fo was already a major cultural figure in Italy when Accidental Death of an Anarchist was staged. Indeed, his credibility and influence were such that he was provided with copies of actual inquest and police documents as he was composing his play. Accidental Death of an Anarchist opened approximately one year after Giuseppe Pinelli's death, in December 1970, and it was a major hit all over Italy as it toured and played to thousands. Italian support of the play suggests the degree to which Italians were critical of authorities at the time.
Although another of Fo's plays, Mistero buffo, is considered his most popular in Italy, Accidental Death of an Anarchist is said to be his second most popular. Outside Italy, it is Fo's most-performed play, partly owing to its searing indictment of police corruption and strong suggestion that a similarly corrupt government body is underwriting this corruption. As Tom Behan indicates in Dario Fo: Revolutionary Theatre, directors around the world who want to respond to corruption in their own midst have turned to Accidental Death of an Anarchist to galvanize their audiences to political action, despite the great risks involved in doing so:
Fo claims that Accidental Death of an Anarchist has been the most performed play in the world over the last 40 years. Its pedigree certainly is impressive: productions in at least 41 countries in very testing circumstances: fascist Chile, Ceausescu's Romania and apartheid South Africa. In Argentina and Greece the cast of early productions were all arrested.
Because Fo allows changes to be made to his script, foreign directors can include material that makes the play relevant to their particular local situation. Of course, if Accidental Death of an Anarchist were not as well written and entertaining as it is, it would not be such a favorite choice of the world's directors and drama groups. What has made Fo's and this play's reputation, finally, is his great skill as a dramatist and theatrical innovator. However, many of Fo's innovations are, paradoxically, adaptations from past theatrical traditions. Joseph Farrell discusses this paradox in "Dario Fo: Zanni and Giullare," from the essay collection The Commedia Dell'Arte: From the Renaissance to Dario Fo:
The affection for, and identification with, figures from Italian theatrical tradition, be it Arlecchino [Harlequin] or the giullare [a performer who would travel from village to village], are perfect illustrations of one of the most striking and paradoxical features of the work of Dario Fo—his relentless search for models from the past with whom he can identify. If on the one hand Fo is customarily seen, and indeed goes out of his way to present himself, as the subversive, the iconoclastic revolutionary,… at the same time his theatrical style is based not on any avant-garde, but on the approaches and techniques practiced by performers of centuries past.
As Farrell writes, the "figure of the giullare," which "provides Fo with a focus and a model" for much of his work, "is a quintessentially medieval figure, who flourished approximately from the Tenth to the Fifteenth centuries, in other words in the period before the blossoming of Commedia dell'arte." Still, the tradition of the commedia dell'arte—from which the figure of the Harlequin derives—is also an important source of inspiration for Fo. Troupes of professional actors made up the commedia groups. They would perform for common people in village squares as soon as they would...
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