Dario Fo World Literature Analysis - Essay

Dario Fo World Literature Analysis

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Dario Fo and Franca Rame consider theater to be an intervention. Fo’s leftist perspective was shaped by his sympathy with the wartime resistance to the Fascists, and after World War II he continued to oppose Italy’s right-wing politicians. By the 1950’s, Fo had so stung his targets in the government and religious bureaucracies that he drew fire from them. Finding a political affinity with the work of Marxist playwright Bertolt Brecht, Fo was influenced by Brecht’s epic theater techniques and later employed them in his own work. Wedded to his political perspective is Fo’s experienced skill as comic actor and mime, trained in revues employing a format of short satirical, farcical sketches. These factors, plus his love of commedia dell’arte characters, with their different regional dialects, are reflected in his work. An early example is Il dito nell’ occhio (pr. 1953; finger in the eye). Cowritten with Franco Parenti and Giustino Durano, the play is a cabaret-style revue composed of twenty-one short sketches interspersed with music. It satirizes the social mores and the traditional values of the Italian middle class. This mixture of mime, spectacle, and social comment was successful with audiences but roused the authorities to police performances.

Fo’s first play at Milan’s Odeon theater was Archangels Don’t Play Pinball, an accomplished farce combining political content with Brechtian epic theater. In the play, government bureaucracy and other aspects of Italian society are ridiculed. The protagonist discovers he has been mistakenly registered as a dog and is sent to a kennel. The play attracted productions abroad, as well as censorship. Other pieces followed, also fusing comedy, music, farcical plot, and social comment. It was common for the authorities to threaten to ban performances. Beginning in 1960, Fo presented short farces, satirical sketches, and songs on national television criticizing such sensitive issues as, for example, working conditions in factories, which caused official censure and his departure from television.

Returning to mainstream, establishment theater, Fo used material from the Middle Ages to evaluate the present from a historical perspective. His Isabella, tre caravelle è un cacciaballe (pr., pb. 1963; Isabella, three sailing ships, and a con man) debunks the romanticized, storybook Columbus. Another play presents Adam and Eve as the only human survivors, along with a corrupt general, of a vast cataclysm, after which cats take over the world. Settimo: Ruba un po’ meno (pr., pb. 1964; seventh commandment: thou shalt steal a bit less) is a bitter, farcical comedy about real estate speculation supported by official corruption. Historical farce is the basis for La colpa è sempre del diavolo (pr., pb. 1965; always blame the devil), which is set in an imaginary period of the Middle Ages that resembles 1965 and that exposes superstitions and clerical oppression of the poor. La signora è da buttare (pr., pb. 1967; the lady is discardable), produced during the Vietnam War, uses a revue-sketch format and circus setting to indict America as an imperialistic, capitalist society. Threatened with arrest, Fo ceased productions for the mainstream, bourgeois theater.

In 1968, Fo created Nuova Scena, a company allied to the Italian Communist Party, which toured the country performing for working-class and popular audiences in nontraditional locations such as factories and market squares. The company’s first play was an allegorical puppet play using marionettes and mechanical figures to represent social forces like capitalism, the middle class, and royalty. It used revue-length sketches to satirize the Church, monarchy, the army, and industrialism. Its central theme was the historical struggle between the middle class and the working class. Another representative play was Fo’s one-man show Mistero Buffo: Comic Mysteries, for which he drew on apocryphal gospel stories, secular tales, and the counterculture of the Middle Ages. He uses a language composed of partially invented and archaic tongues, drawn partially from the dialects of northern Italy. The playwright played all the roles, in the tradition of both the guillare, traveling comic/singer/mime of the Middle Ages, and the clown of the commedia dell’arte.

After internal disputes and the Communist Party’s withdrawal of support ended Fo’s connection with Nuova Scena in 1970, he created an independent political theater group called La Comune, dedicated to examining sociopolitical issues, for which he wrote several major works. The first play this group presented was his Accidental Death of an Anarchist, which was based on an actual case. The satirical farce deals with the tension between a murder by the police and the ridiculous explanations of the officials trying to cover it up. Other works in the 1970’s utilize such themes as police brutality, the treatment of political prisoners, the Palestine struggle, and the like. Non si paga! Non si paga! (pr., pb. 1974; We Can’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!, 1978) treats the subject of civil disobedience in a story of a shop steward’s wife who raids a supermarket to protest rising prices and incurs her husband’s disapproval. Clacson, trombette e pernacchi (pr. 1981; Trumpets and Raspberries, 1981, also as About Face, 1983), also espousing a political cause, is based on the actual terrorist kidnapping and murder of an Italian politician whose colleagues of the Christian Democrat Party refused to negotiate with his captors and thus ensured his execution. The play farcically mocks political cynicism and the overzealousness of police, who see terrorists everywhere. It tells of a falsely accused proletarian rescuer of a kidnapped executive whose identity becomes confused with that of the victim.

In the late 1970’s, Fo withdrew from La Comune. He continued to write and act in plays. That Fo’s work had not lost its power to...

(The entire section is 2463 words.)