An internationally acclaimed and widely produced political playwright, Dario Fo was born in the small town of San Giano on the shore of Lake Maggiore, Lombardy, in 1926. An outspoken but not doctrinaire Marxist, Fo has often created his dramatic works on the spur of the moment, to be used in specific political situations.
Fo’s father was a railway worker and ardent antifascist. Fo was reared in a rural environment where he learned to appreciate both the traditional peasant culture of his mother and the political fight against fascism. Much of Fo’s childhood was spent listening to the traditional storytellers who could still be found in the remote areas of Lombardy. By the time he was in his teens, he had internalized a vast repertoire of traditional folk narratives. Following a brief time in the army, Fo studied architecture in Milan. Strongly attracted to the theater, however, he dropped out to become first a scene designer and then a performer.
Fo started writing plays at the age of eighteen, yet it was not until 1950 that his professional career began. He had performed for friends and fellow students with success and approached the then famous actor Franco Parenti, hoping to be invited to participate in a stage show Parenti was organizing. Parenti accepted, and a collaboration began that lasted four years. The Italian state radio invited him to do his own comical one-man show, Poer nano (poor dwarf), and in 1952 Fo and his “poor dwarf” took to the stage. Soon after, Fo, Parenti, and the actor Giustino Durano produced the famous revue Il dito nell’ occhio (a finger in the eye). Fo, arguably the most gifted actor-clown of his day, has throughout his career worked as an all-around theater man, writing plays and songs, directing, creating sets, and acting.
After a brief interlude in Rome, where he worked as a screenwriter, there followed years when Dario Fo wrote and starred with his wife,...
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Dario Fo was born in 1926, in San Giano, Italy, a small town in Lombardy on the shores of Lake Maggiore, near the Swiss border. His father was a railway worker who enjoyed acting in an amateur theater company, and his mother came from a peasant family. As a boy, Dario was very much influenced by the fabulatori and cantastorie, traveling storytellers and ballad singers who wandered around the shores of the lake entertaining the local fishermen. As a youth, he went to Milan, where he studied painting at the Brera Academy and architecture at the Polytechnic Institute, abandoning his studies when he was close to obtaining his degree. When he suffered a nervous breakdown in the late 1940’s, he was advised to pursue what he found most enjoyable, and he thereafter turned more and more to theater. During the 1950’s, Fo tried his hand at radio, revues, and films. During the period between 1958 and 1959, he wrote, produced, directed, and performed in one-act farces and short comic pieces, inspired by theatrical traditions ranging from the commedia dell’arte to the “French Farce” of Ernest Feydeau. “These farces were a very important exercise for me in understanding how to write a theatrical text. I learned how to dismantle and re-assemble the mechanisms of comedy,” Fo has said. “I also realized how many antiquated, useless things there were in many plays which belong to the theatre of words.”
In 1954, Fo married actress Franca Rame, a member of a popular touring theater family. (Their son, Jacopo, in 1977 provided the illustrations for two scenarios from Poer Nano, which were published in cartoon form.) In 1959, the Fos formed their own company, La Compagnia Dario Fo-Franca Rame in Milan.
The years 1959 to 1968 are usually described as Fo’s “bourgeois period,” because the company performed mainly before middle-class audiences, working in traditional boulevard or Broadway-type commercial theaters. The plays had consistent plot lines and character development, but they all satirized and criticized the government and existing political and social conditions in Italy. “Having accepted this circuit and these audiences,” Fo recalls, “we had to put across political and social truths under the guise of satiric licence.”
In 1959, Fo and Rame were invited to present some of their farces on the government-controlled national television, RAI-TV. In 1962, they worked in a popular Italian television series, Canzonissima. Fo’s sketches, highly satirical and explicitly political, were censored, causing Fo and Rame to resign in protest. The Fos were then sued by RAI and effectively excluded from Italian television for some fourteen years. Ci ragiono è canto was an uneasy collaboration with a musical group interested in reviving peasant and working-class songs. Fo directed the show and...
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