Archangels Don’t Play Pinball was the first of a series of six plays that Fo produced with his wife at Milan’s Teatro Odeon, the equivalent of a Broadway or West End theater. A three-act farce with music, based on a short story by Italian writer Augusto Frassinetti, it is one of Fo’s most accomplished farces and his first play to be performed outside Italy. It has been performed many times since and has brought its playwright international recognition.
Structurally, Archangels Don’t Play Pinball is a fast-moving farce, with bedroom mix-ups and officious officialdom, similar to those crafted by such French farceurs as Georges Feydeau and Eugene Labiche. The intervention of the archangels at the play’s end parallels the deus ex machina of classic Greek theater as well as Brecht’s use of gods in Der gute Mensch von Sezuan (wr. 1938-1940, pr. 1943, pb. 1953; The Good Woman of Setzuan, 1948). It is Fo’s first play to combine political-satirical content with a Brechtian form, abandoning the revue-sketch and short farce format for a consistent plotline and character development. In the traveling company tradition of doubling roles, ten of the play’s twelve characters play several parts. The device becomes a source of farcical complication as the protagonist recognizes the players in their new identities.
The play is set in Milan’s industrial outskirts and introduces a gang of loutish youths given to conning tricks, who have made the hero, Lofty, the fall guy for their jokes. For example, they pay a harlot (Blondie) to set up a fake marriage with Lofty. When Lofty tries claiming a disability pension, he finds himself registered as a dog and must submit to being sent to a kennel. From there the story follows his struggles to clarify his identity and to defend himself against a series of mindless bureaucrats—from dog-catchers to a government minister. He encounters them in a number of farcical episodes in different locales. With his innocent, literal interpretation of situations, Lofty reveals them in all their absurdity. Ultimately, Lofty wakes up in a house in the red-light district, where he has suffered a fall and unconsciousness. He realizes that he has been dreaming. He is delighted to find himself mock-married to Blondie, and they subsequently find happiness in each other.
Fo’s satirization of government bureaucracy...
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