Mimi D'Aponte

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In the following essay excerpt, D'Aponte provides an overview of Fo's career and works, including his reception in the United States.

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Clowns are grotesque blashpemers against all our pieties. That's why we need them. They're our alter egos.

—Dario Fo, Cambridge, May 1987

Americans writing about theatre have been pronouncing Dario Fo's work extraordinary, whether for performance or political reasons, or for both. "For the past decade," claimed Joel Schechter in 1985, "Dario Fo has been Europe's most popular political satirist." "So many theatres have included Fo in their recent seasons," wrote Ron Jenkins in 1986, "that he has become the most-produced contemporary Italian playwright in the U.S." American producers interested in social satire seem to have become less leery of this zany Italian genius who publicly thanked his "fellow actor," Ronald Reagan, for the marvelous promotion afforded his work when the State Department denied him an American visa for several years….

To give a full account of Dario Fo's theatrical career would really be tantamount to writing a history of postwar Italy, because his work can only be understood as a continuous, uniquely creative response to the major social and political developments of the past thirty years.

Like Eduardo before him, Fo has been greeted with instant popularity in many countries while being given, initially at least, a somewhat cooler reception in the U.S. The failure, for example, of Eduardo's Saturday, Sunday and Monday in 1974 Broadway production despite its huge British success in 1973 seems to have been a virtual blueprint for Fo's British-American experience with Accidental Death of an Anarchist. This "grotesque" farce about a "tragic farce" achieved tremendous success in London during 1979–81, only to open and close rapidly on Broadway in Fall of 1984.

What seems clear, however, is that Fo's work has created an ongoing interest in American university and repertory theatres which Eduardo's did not. This is due in part to an increased American awareness of international theatre trends fostered by the academy's more frequent conference and exchange programs, and also perhaps by more frequent mass-media culture coverage. Continued American interest in Fo's work springs also from our desire to stay abreast of such trends: Tony Mitchell, in the first English-language book devoted to Fo, states flatly that by 1978, "Fo was already the most widely performed playwright in world theatre." But it is the fact that Fo and Rame have finally been able to practise their crafts of acting and directing in this country that has led to acclaim in the American theatre about this extraordinary team….

In reviewing Mistero buffo for The New York Times, Mel Gussow introduced Fo as "an outrageous gadfly" and mentioned Richard Pryor, Father Guido Sarducci and Monty Python by way of comparison. Mr. Gussow concluded with mention of other names:

With his mobile face and body, he is a cartoon in motion, loping across the stage with the antelopean grace of Jacques Tati, doing a Jackie Gleason away-we-go to demonstrate the Italian perfection of the art of women-watching.

Both sets of references are on target. Fo's performance was unforgettable because it conjured up a complex battery of historical and cultural perspectives, while simultaneously satirizing their contingent political realities. Clad in black work-day jersey and slacks and sharing a bare stage with only his translator, Fo created in the mind's eye of his audience chaotic crowds, lavish costumes, and dramatic conflicts resolved by the machinations of a laughing clown-narrator in favor of those without power.

Fo's formidable powers of persuasion through laughter illuminate his on-stage persona. These same powers are seen from another perspective in his work as teacher and director. Most immediately obvious is the appeal of the...

(The entire section contains 14228 words.)

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