Dario Fo 1929–
Fo is one of the world's most widely produced contemporary playwrights. Critic Suzanne Cowan notes, "To give a full account of Dario Fo's theatrical career would really be tantamount to writing a history of post-war Italy, because his work can only be understood as a continuous, uniquely creative response to the major social and political development of the past thirty years." Politically, Fo is a proponent of proletarian revolution, but he eventually broke with the Communist party when he thought that its aims were diverging from the best interests of the working class. Artistically, he advocates taking advantage of Italy's heritage of popular theater, including in his works elements of the circus, the minstrel show, puppetry, mime, regional dialects, and commedia dell'arte. Richard Sogliuzzo explains how these two concerns work together: "In Fo's theatre, the medium is undoubtedly the message: a proletarian revolution to be accomplished by utilizing theatrical traditions born of the people." Fo and Franca Rame, his actress-wife and sometime-collaborator, have toured their plays extensively in Europe, usually playing the lead roles themselves. However, the strong political nature of their work has until recently prevented their plays from being produced in England and the United States. The couple have twice been denied permission to enter the United States.
The zany humor for which Fo is noted has always been integral to his work, but his political commitment developed gradually. Shortly after the end of World War II, Fo began performing original one-man comedy shows in nightclubs and other commercial theaters. His first nationally known production, II dito nell'occhio (1953), attempted to convey Marxist ideas, but they were mostly obscured by the visually spectacular, circus-like aspects of the show. When Compagnia Dario Fo-Franca Rame, the Fos's first touring company, was established in 1958, social satire was their forte; only later did they turn to political satire. During this period, the couple also performed on television in a popular comedy revue, but they were eventually censored for being too vocal about their leftist political views. Around the same time, Fo produced La signora e da buttare (1967), which was a turning point in his career. His first explicitly political play and his last to be produced in a commercial theater for many years, La signora e da buttare has a circus setting, a frenetic pace, and many gesture and movement gags. The title means "the lady is for the scrapheap" and refers to the circus owner, who represents American imperialism and capitalism.
In response to the turbulent political and social climate of the 1960s, Fo vowed to "stop playing the jester of the bourgeoisie." He renounced commercial theater entirely in favor of a theater which could act as an instrument of social change. In 1968 he and Rame formed another touring troupe, Nuova Scena, under the auspices of the Italian Communist Party. To appeal to his new proletarian audience, Fo simplified his works. Many were allegories which used puppets to represent political movements. In Grande pantomima con bandiere e pupazzi piccoli e medi (1968), a satire of Italian history during the twenty-five years following World War II, a beautiful woman, rep-resenting capitalism, is born out of a giant monster puppet, fascism, and seduces a giant dragon puppet, communism. Although Fo was working with the Communist party at this time, he did not hesitate to criticize its bureaucratic structure and its tendency towards reform rather than revolution. The Party withdrew its support from Nuova Scena, and in 1970 Fo and Rame formed a new company, I1 Collettivo Teatrale La Comune.
La Comune's goal was to raise the consciousness of the working classes, to encourage them to overthrow the bourgeois state, and to bring about a socialist government. Plays from the La Comune period tended to be highly topical. For instance, Guerra di popolo in Cile (1973) is about the people's war in Chile, Fedayn (1971) concerns the Palestinian problem, and Morte accidentale di un anarchico (1970; Accidental Death of an Anarchist) is a farcical rendering of the cover-up which followed the police murder of anarchist Giuseppe Pinelli. Because of their topicality, most of the La Comune plays were short-lived, but Accidental Death of an Anarchist has achieved sustained and international popularity. It is Fo's first play to receive a professional production both in England and in the United States. Because La Comune performances relied extensively on improvisation and audience interaction, published texts of these plays tend to be unrepresentative of what is seen onstage.
In recent years, Fo has collaborated more extensively with Rame and produced strongly feminist plays. These works concentrate on family and male-female relationships yet retain their political context. The couple's most successful collaboration has been Tutta casa, letto e chiesa, a series of eight monologues, some serious and some humorous, which focus on the position of women in society. The pieces have been performed in the United States and England in various combinations and under such various titles as One Woman Plays (1981), Female Parts (1982), and Orgasmo Adulto Escapes from the Zoo (1983). Another Fo comedy which is both domestic and political, No se paga! No se paga! (1974; We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay!), is about housewives who organize a supermarket boycott to protest exorbitant prices. In a 1984 interview, Fo compared the male-female relationship in the family unit with the bourgeois-proletariat relationship in society. He explained the personal nature of the later plays by saying, "In the face of the failure of revolutionary ideals, the basic problem is how people relate to one another."