Fo, Dario (24 March 1926 - )
Dario Fo (24 March 1926 - )
University of Padua
See also the Fo entry in DLB Yearbook 1997.
BOOKS: Teatro comico di Dario Fo (Milan: Garzanti, 1962)–comprises La Marcolfa; Gli imbianchini non hanno ricordi; I tre bravi; Non tutti i ladri vengono per nuocere; Un morto da vendere; I cadaveri si spediscono e le donne si spogliano; L’uomo nudo e l’uomo in frak; and Canzoni e ballate; L’uomo nudo e l’uomo in frak translated by Ed Emery as One Was Nude and One Wore Tails (London: Theatretexts, 1985);
Legami pure che tanto io spacco lo stesso (Milan: Nuova Scena, 1969)–comprises Il telaio and Il funerala del padrone;
L’operaio conosce 300 parole, il padrone 1000: per questo lui è il padrone (Milan: Nuova Scena, 1969);
Mistero buffo: Giullarata popolare (Cremona: Tip. Lombarda, 1969; revised edition, edited by Franca Rame, Verona: Bertani, 1974; revised and enlarged edition, Turin: Einaudi, 2003); translated by Emery as Mistero Buffo: Comic Mysteries, edited by Stuart Hood (London: Methuen, 1988);
Vorrei morire anche stasera se dovessi pensare die non è servito a niente (Verona: E.D.B., 1970);
Morte accidentale di un anarchico (Verona: Bertani, 1971); translated by Gillian Hanna and adapted by Gavin Richards as Accidental Death of an Anarchist (London: Pluto, 1980);
Morte e resurrezione di un pupazzo (Milan: Sapere, 1971);
Tutti uniti! Tutti insieme! Ma scusa, quello non è il padrone? (Verona: Bertani, 1971);
Ordine! Per Dio.ooo.ooo.ooo (Verona: Bertani, 1972);
Pum, Pum! Chi è? La polizia! (Verona: Bertani, 1972; revised edition, 1973);
Guerra di popolo in Cile (Verona: Bertani, 1973);
Ballate a canzoni, edited by Lanfranco Binni (Verona: Bertani, 1974);
Non si paga! Non si paga! (Milan: Collettivo Teatrale La Comune, 1974); translated by Lino Pertile and adapted by Bill Colvill and Robert Walker as We Can’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! (London: Pluto, 1978);
Il Fanfani rapito (Verona: Bertani, 1975);
La giullarata (Verona: Bertani, 1975);
La signora è da buttare (Turin: Einaudi, 1976);
Poer Nano, text by Fo, illustrations by Jacopo Fo (Milan: Ottaviano, 1976);
La marijuana della mamma è la più bella (Verona: Bertani, 1976);
Tutta casa, letto e chiesa, by Fo and Rame (Verona: Bertani, 1978; new edition, Milan: La Comune, 1981)–1978 edition comprises excerpts from Tutta casa, letto e chiesa; L’operaio conosce 300 parole, il padrone 1000: per questo lui è il padrone; Mistero buffo; Vorrei morire anche stasera se dovessi pensare che non è servito e niente; Guerra di popolo in Cile; I piath; Basta oi fascisti!; Fedayn; Canzonissima; and Chi l’ha visto?;
La storia di un soldato, text by Fo, photographs by Silvia Lelli Masotti (Milan: Electa, 1979);
Storia della tigre e altre storie, edited by Rame and Arturo Corso (Milan: La Comune, 1980)–comprises Storia della tigre; Il primo miracolo di Gesù Bambino; Dedalo e Icaro; and Il sacrificio di Isacco; Storia della tigre translated by Emery as The Tale of a Tiger: A Comic Monologue (London: Theatretexts, 1984);
Clacson, trombette e pernacchi, edited by Rame (Milan: La Comune, 1981)–comprises Clacson, trombette e pernacchi; Terrorismo di stampa; and Alcune ricevute di Soccorso rosso militante; Clacson, trombette e pernacchi translated by Dale McAdoo and Charles Mann as About Face: A Farce, in Theater, 14, no. 3 (Summer/Fall 1983): 4–42;
L’opera dello sghignazzo, libretto by Fo, music by Fiorenzo Carpi (Milan: La Comune, 1981);
Storia vera di Piero D’Angera, che alla crociata non c’era, edited by Rame and Sergio Martin (Milan: La Comune, 1981);
Fabulazzo osceno, edited by Rame (Milan: La Comune, 1982)–comprises Il tumulto di Bologna; La parpàja töpola; Lucio e l’asino; and Io, Ulrike, grido...;
Coppia aperta, by Fo and Rame (Milan: Compagnia Teatrale La Comune, 1984); translated by Emery as The Open Couple: A One-Act Comedy (London: Theatretexts, 1984); translated by Stuart Hood as An Open Couple–Very Open, Theater [Yale] (Winter 1985): 19–31;
Il ratto della Francesca, edited by Rame, Franca Valsania, and Davide Rota (Milan: La Comune, 1986); translated by Rupert Lowe as Abducting Diana, adapted by Stephen Stenning (London: Oberon, 1994);
Manuale minimo dell’attore (Turin: Einaudi, 1987; expanded edition, 1997); translated by Joseph Farrell as The Tricks of the Trade, edited by Hood (London: Methuen, 1991; New York: Routledge, 1991);
Parti femminili: Una giornata qualunque, Una coppia aperta, by Fo and Rame (Milan: La Comune, 1987);
La fine del mondo (Valverde: II Girasole, 1990);
Totò: Manuak dell’attor comico, edited by Liborio Termine (Turin: Aleph, 1991);
Johan Padan a la descoverta de le Americhe, edited by Rame (Florence: Giunti, 1992; bilingual edition, translated by John Rugman, Turin: Abele, 1992);
Parliamo di donne, by Fo and Rame (Milan: Kaos, 1992)– comprises L’eroina and La donna grassa;
Fabulazzo (Milan: Kaos, 1992);
Il diavolo con le zinne, edited by Rame (Turin: Einaudi, 1998);
Marino libero! Marino è innocente! edited by Rame (Turin: Einaudi, 1998);
Lu Santo Jullàre Francesco, edited by Rame (Turin: Einaudi, 1999);
La vera storia di Ravenna (Modena: Panini, 1999);
L’ascensione di Alessandro Magno portato in cielo da due grifoni (Rome: Sinnos, 2001);
Il paese dei Mezàrat: I miei primi sette anni (e qualcuno in più), edited by Rame (Milan: Feltrinelli, 2002); translated by Joseph Farrell as My First Seven Years (Plus a Few More) (London: Methuen, 2005);
22 cose che la sinistra devefare e non ha ancora fatto, by Fo, Rame, and Jacopo Fo (Italy: Nuovi Mondi, 2002);
Il tempio degli uomini liberi: II Duomo de Modena, edited by Rame (Modena: Panini, 2004);
Caravaggio al tempo di Caravaggio: In occasione della mostra Caravaggio, una mostraimpossiblile, a Roma, Castel Sant’Angelo, edited by Rame (Modena: Panini, 2005).
Collection: Le commedie di Dario Fo, edited by Franca Rame, 13 volumes (Turin: Einaudi, 1966–1998)–comprises volume 1, Gli arcangeli non giocano a flipper; Aveva due pistole con gli occhi bianchi e neri; and Chi ruba un piede è fortunato in amore; volume 2, Isabella, tre caravelle e un cacciaballe; Settimo, ruba un po’ meno; and La colpa è sempre del diavolo; volume 3, Grande pantomima con bandire e pupazzi grandi, piccoli e medi; L’operaio conosce trecento parole il padrone milk per questo lui è il padrone; and Legami pure che tanto io spacco tutto lo stesso; volume 4, Vorrei morire anche stasera se dovessi pensare che non è servito a niente; Tutti uniti! Tutti insieme! Ma scusa, quello non è il padrone? and Fedayn; volume 5, Mistero buffo and Ci ragiono e canto; volume 6, La Marcolfa; Gli imbianchini non hanno ricordi; I tre bravi; Non tutti i ladri vengono per nuocere; Un morto da vendere; I cadaveri si spediscono e le donne si spogliano; L’uomo nudo e l’uomo infrak; and Canzoni e ballate; volume 7, Morte accidentale di un anarchico and La signora è da buttare; volume 8, Venticinque monologhi per una donna; volume 9, Coppia aperta, quasi spalancata e altre quattordice commedie, by Fo and Rame; volume 10, II Papa e la strega; Il Fanfani rapito; Clacson, trombette e pernacchi; and Il ratto della Francesca; volume 11, Storia vera di Pietro d’Angera, che alla crociata non c’era; L’opera dello sghignazzo; and Quasi per caso una donna: Elisabetta; volume 12, Non si paga! Non si paga!; La marijuana della mamma è la più bella; Dio li fa e poi li accoppa; II braccato; Zitti! Stiamo precitando! and Mamma! I Sanculotti!by Fo and Rame; and volume 13, L’eroina; Grasso è bello!; Sesso? Grazie, tanto per gradire! and “Appunti e altre storie,” by Fo and Rame.
Editions in English: Female Parts: One-Woman Plays, by Fo and Franca Rame, translated by Margaret Kunzle and Stuart Hood, adapted by Olwen Wymark (London: Pluto, 1981)–comprises Waking Up, A Woman Alone, The Same Old Story, and Medea;
We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay! A Political Farce, translated by R. G. Davis (New York: S. French, 1984);
Coming Home: A Comic Monologue, by Fo and Rame, translated by Ed Emery (London: Theatretexts, 1984);
The Mother: A Dramatic Monologue, translated by Emery (London: Theatretexts, 1984);
Trumpets and Raspberries, translated and adapted by R. C. McAvoy and Anna-Maria Giugni (London: Pluto, 1984);
Adult Orgasm Escapes from the Zoo, by Fo and Rame, adapted by Estelle Parsons (New York: Broadway Play Pub., 1985);
Archangels Don’t Play Pinball, translated by McAvoy and Giugni (London: Methuen, 1987); translated by Ron Jenkins (New York: S. French, 1987);
Elizabeth, Almost by Chance a Woman, translated by Gillian Hanna, edited by Hood (London: Methuen, 1987); translated by Jenkins (New York: S. French, 1987);
The Open Couple and An Ordinary Day, by Fo and Rame, translated by Hood and Joseph Farrell (London: Methuen, 1990);
The Pope and the Witch, by Fo and Rame, translated by Emery (London: Oberon, 1990)–includes The First Miracle of the Infant Jesus; translated by Joan Holden (New York: S. French, 1997);
A Woman Alone & Other Plays, by Fo and Rame, translated by Emery, Hanna, and Christopher Cairns (London: Methuen, 1991)–includes All Home, Bed and Church; More Stories; Tales of the Resistance; and Questions of Terrorism and Repression;
Plays: One, translated by Emery, McAvoy, Giugni, and Farrell (London: Methuen, 1992)–comprises Mistero Buffo; Accidental Death of an Anarchist; Trumpets and Rasperries; The Virtuous Burglar; and One Was Nude and One Wore Tails;
Plays: Two, by Fo and Rame, translated by Lino Pertile, Hanna, Hood, and Farrell (London: Methuen, 1994)–comprises Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay!; Elizabeth, Almost by Chance a Woman; The Open Coupk; and An Ordinary Day;
We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay! and Other Plays, edited by Rame, translated by Jenkins (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2001);
Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas, translated by Jenkins and Stefania Taviano (New York: Grove, 2001);
The Peasants’ Bible and The Story of the Tiger, translated by Jenkins (New York: Grove, 2004).
PLAY PRODUCTIONS: Il dito nell’occhio, by Fo, Franco Parenti, and Giustino Durano, Milan, Piccolo Teatro, 15 June 1953;
I sani da legare, by Fo, Parenti, and Durano, Milan, Piccolo Teatro, 19 June 1954;
Ladri, manichini e donne nude, by Fo and Georges Feydeau, Milan, Piccolo Teatro, 6 June 1958;–comprised L’uomo nudo e l’uomo in frak; Non tutti i ladri vengono per nuocere; Gli imbianchini non hanno ricordi; and Non andartene in giro tutta nuda!; later productions substituted I cadaveri si spedicono, le donne di spogliano [by Fo] for Non andartene in giro tutta nuda! [by Feydeau];
Comica finale, Turin, Teatro Stabile, 10 December 1958;–comprised Quando sarai povero sarai re; La Marcolfa; Un morto da vendere; and I tre bravi;
Gli arcangeli non giocano a flipper, Milan, Teatro Odeon, 11 September 1959;
II 999° dei Mille, Milan, II Globo, September 1959;
Aveva due pistole con gli occhi bianchi e neri, Milan, Teatro Odeon, 2 September 1960;
Chi ruba un piede è fortunato in amore, Milan, Teatro Odeon, 8 September 1961;
Isbella, tre caravelle e un cacciaballe, Milan, Teatro Odeon, 6 September 1963;
Settimo, ruba un po’meno, Milan, Teatro Odeon, 4 September 1964;
La colpa è sempre del diavolo, Milan, Teatro Odeon, 10 September 1965;
La signora è da buttare, Milan, Teatro Manzoni, 15 September 1967;
Grande pantomima con bandiere e pupazzi grandi, piccoli e medi, Cesenà, Casa del Popolo di San Egidio, 25 October 1968; revised as Morte e resurrezione di un pupazzo, 1971;
Mistero buffo, Sestri Levante, 1 October 1969;
L’operaio conosce 300 parole, il padrone 1000: per questo lui è il padrone, Genoa, Teatro dello Gioventù, 3 November 1969;
Legami pure che tanto io spacco tutto lo stesso, Genoa, Teatro della Gioventù, 5 November 1969–comprised Il telaio and Il funerala del padrone;
Vorrei morire anche stasera se dovessi pensare che non è servito a niente, Milan, Capannone di Via Colletta, 27 October 1970;
Morte accidentale di un anarchico, Varese, 5 December 1970; Milan, Capannone di Via Colletta, 10 December 1970;
Tutti uniti! Tutti insieme! Ma scusa, quello non è il padrone? Varese, Casa del Popolo, 27 March 1971;
Fedayn, Milan, Capannone di Via Colletta, February 1972;
Ordine! Per Dio.ooo.ooo, Bologna, Salone de San Lazarro, 18 November 1972;
Pum, Pum! Chi è? La Polizia! Rome, Circolo Quarticciolo, 7 December 1972;
Guerra di popolo in Cile, Milan, Teatro Palladio, 1973;
Non si paga! Non si paga! Milan, Palazzina Liberty, 3 October 1974;
Il Fanfani rapito, Milan, Palazzina Liberty, 5 June 1975;
La giullarata, Milan, Palazzina Liberty, 11 November 1975;
La marijuana della mamma è la più bella, Milan, Palazzina Liberty, 2 March 1976;
La storia della tigre e altre storie, Perugia, Quasar a Ellera, 12 June 1977;
Tutta casa, letto e chiesa, by Fo and Franca Rame, Milan, Palazzina Liberty, 6 December 1977;
La storia di un soldato, adapted by Fo from Igor Stravinsky’s opera, Cremona, Teatro Ponchielli, 18 November 1978;
Clacson, trombette e pernacchi, Milan, Teatro Cristallo, 14 January 1981;
Discorsi sul terrorismo e la repressione, by Fo and Rame, Milan, Teatro Cristallo, 27 February 1981;
L’opera dello sghignazzo, libretto by Fo, music by Fiorenzo Carpi, Turin, Fabbricone, 1 December 1981;
Patapumfete, Milan, Teatro Cristallo, 3 March 1982;
Il fabulazzo osceno, Milan, Teatro Smeraldo, 1982–comprised II tumulto di Bologna; La parpàja tópola; Lucio el’asino; and Io, Ulrike, grido . . .;
Coppia aperta, by Fo and Rame, Milan, Teatro Ciak, 30 November 1983;
Quasi per caso una donna: Elisabetta, Riccione, Teatro Turismo, 7 December 1984;
Hellequin Harlekin Arlekin: Arlecchino, Venice, Teatro Goldoni, 18 October 1985;
Una giornata qualunque, by Fo and Rame, Milan, Teatro Nuovo, 9 October 1986;
Il ratio della Francesca, Trieste, Teatro Slovene, 3 December 1986;
La parte del leone, Venice, Teatro Toniolo Mestre, 15 September 1987;
Diario di Eva, Milan, Teatro Sala dell’Acqua Potabile, 26 June 1988;
Il Papa e la strega, by Fo and Rame, Novara, Teatro Faraggiana, 31 October 1989;
Zitt! Stiamo precipitando! Milan, Teatro Nuovo, 27 November 1990;
Parliamo di donne, by Fo and Rame, Ravenna, Teatro Rasi, 26 November 1991–comprised L’eroina and Grasso è betto;
Johan Padan a la descoverta de le Americhe, Bologna, Teatro San Giovanni in Persiceto, late 1991;
Settimo: Ruba un po’ meno, n. 2, Cararra, Teatro Animosi, 20 November 1992;
Mamma! I Sanculotti! Carrara, Teatro Animosi, 6 November 1993;
Dario Fo recita Ruzzante, Spoleto, Teatro Nuovo, 8 July 1993;
Sesso? Grazie, tanto per gradire, adapted by Fo and Rame from Jacopo Fo’s Lo Zen e l’arte di scopare, Rome, Teatro Valle, 28 December 1994;
La Bibbia dell’Imperatore, la Bibbia dei villani, Benevento, Teatro Romano, 6 September 1996;
Il diavolo con le zinne, Messina, Teatro Vittorio Emanuele, 7 August 1997;
Marino libero! Marino è innocente!, Milan, Teatro Nazionale, 16 March 1998;
Lu Santo Fullàre Françesco, Spoleto, Festival di Spoleto, 8 July 1999;
Il grande bugiardo, Milan, Palalida, 10 May 2001;
Da Tangentopoli all’irresistibile ascesa di Ubu-Bas, Milan, Teatro Smeraldo, 9 October 2002;
L’anomalo bicefalo, Varallo, Teatro Civico, 13 November 2003;
Il tempio degli uomini liberi: II Duomo di Modena, Modena, Piazza Grande, 19 July 2004.
PRODUCED SCRIPTS: Lo svitato, by Fo, Fulvio Fo, Augusto Frassinetti, Carlo Lizzani, Massimo Mida, and Bruno Vailati, motion picture, Ente Nazionale Industrie Cinematografiche, 1955;
Souvenir d’Italie, by Fo, Agenore Incrocci, Antonio Pietrangeli, and Furio Scarpelli, motion picture, Athena Cinematografica, 1957;
Rascel-Fifì, motion picture, Vides Cinematografica, 1957;
Il teatro di Dario Fo, television, RAI 2, 1977-included Setimo: Ruba un po’ meno; Parliamo di donne; Ci ragiono e canto; and Mistero buffo.
OTHER: Bianca Fo Garambois, Una strega, una pizza e un orco con la stizza, illustrations by Fo (Firenze: FATATRAC, 1995);
Fo Garambois, Cartigli, infernotti e cronache bislacche, illustrations by Fo (Firenze: FATATRAC, 1999).
SELECTED PERIODICAL PUBLICATION–UNCOLLECTED: “II dito nell’occhio,” by Fo, Franco Parenti, and Giustino Durano, Teatro d’Oggi, 3, no. 2 (1954): 9–17.
For more than fifty years Dario Fo has been a central figure of theater practice, both technically and the matically. His method has been one that has gone from the stage to the text and has embodied the tradition of the commedia dell’arte, a theatrical tradition that did not rely on a written text with lines to be uttered by the actors but only on scenarios (basic written plots with no lines). Fo, however, belongs to the tradition of commedia dell’arte actors who did not perform in the royal courts but preferred the streets and the taverns as their stage. His preoccupation has always been to question and denounce the injustices imposed on human beings around the world. Although his theater has used comedy to expose the corruption, dishonesty, and arrogance of the powerful, he has always provoked serious reactions throughout the world. His ideological stance has always been accompanied by a personal commitment, beyond the theater, to help and support those who suffer.
Fo postponed writing his autobiography until 2002, when he published Il paese dei Mezàrat: I miei primi sette anni (e qualcuno in più) (translated as My First Seven Years (Plus a Few More), 2005); before then, however, he released many interviews through which his personal and artistic life are widely documented. He was born in San Giano, Varese, Italy, on 24 March 1926. His father, Felice Fo, was a railway stationmaster and a socialist; his mother, Pina Rota, was an educated woman of peasant origin and tradition. Fo’s parents were not insensitive to the appeal of art and culture: his father was an amateur actor, and his mother had written a critically acclaimed autobiographical book, Il paese delle rane (The Nation of Frogs), published by the prestigious house Einaudi in 1970. However, the family figure who most influenced the future satirical playwright and actor was probably his maternal grandfather, Giuseppe Rota, better known as “Bristin,” which means “red pepper seed” and described his spicy sense of humor. Bristin was a natural-born storyteller and used to take Dario with him on his horse-drawn wagon when traveling to various villages to sell fruits and vegetables. In an interview with Maurizio Cherici for the daily newspapers Il Corriera della Sera (2 July 1993), Fo stated that his grandfather, to attract clients, would narrate tall tales and cry out news items, with a preference for licentious affairs, such as:
Tragedia a Sarzana: Lui esce in mutande dal balcone trascinando la moglie nuda, scoperta con l’amico fedifrago che, fuggendo per le scale, inciampava e si rompeva le gambe. Lo potete ritrovare all’ospedale di Carrara, camera 32. Portategli i fiori, se li merita.
(Tragedy in Sarzana: Husband in his underpants draws his naked wife onto the balcony, while the unfaithful friend with whom she had been surprised falls from the staircase and breaks his legs in the attempt to escape. The poor fellow is now in the Carrara Hospital, Room 32. Bring him flowers, please.)
In the interview Fo traced his own talent for theater and literature to this grandparent. Affection may have led Fo to exaggerate his debt to his beloved grandfather, but there is no doubt that his first schooling as an actor, improviser, and writer for the stage had its roots in the oral tradition of the Val Padana people of the Lom-bardy region in Northern Italy, especially the craftsmen and fishermen. Most of Fo’s childhood was spent moving from one town to another, as his father’s postings changed according to railway service needs; but wherever the family went, Fo spent hours sitting in taverns and squares listening tirelessly to the local people, who narrated stories often spiced with political satire.
In 1940 Fo enrolled at the Accademia d’Arte di Brera but was unable to attend his courses because of the outbreak of World War II. This period is nonetheless important, for he befriended intellectuals who later dominated the landscape of Italian culture in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Carlo Lizzani, Elio Vittorini, Carlo Bo, and Gillo Pontecorvo. His family took an active part in the antifascist resistance, and Fo helped his father to smuggle refugees and Allied soldiers to Switzerland, while his mother cared for wounded partisans. After Italy’s surrender in 1943, which left half of the country in the hands of the Nazis, Fo was conscripted by force into the army of the Repubblica di Salò, the last rampart of the Fascist Regime in Northern Italy, founded by Benito Mussolini. Fo, however, managed to escape and hid until the end of the war.
After the war, Fo continued his studies in Milan, at the faculty of architecture of the Politecnico, commuting every day from Luino before the rest of the family joined him in Milan. He never completed his curriculum for graduation, but he got a part-time job as an assistant architect and began to draw theater scenes and to exhibit his paintings and drawings (he was a staunch admirer of the Italian surrealist painter Giorgio De Chirico). Moreover, he started to frequent the Milan theatrical milieu, where his encounter with the actor and theater manager Franco Parenti turned out to be decisive for his future career. He became involved in the movement of the “piccoli teatri” (small theaters), where he performed improvised monologues. In 1950 he started to work for a theater company led by Parenti. In 1951 Fo performed “Poer Nano” (Poor Little Thing), a series of satirical monologues, as part of the revue Sette giorni a Milano (Seven Days in Milan) at the Teatro Odeon in Milan; it was his first experience in an “official” theater. Parenti also introduced Fo into the Italian State Broadcasting Company, RAI, where Fo performed his monologues on the radio program Chicchirichi that year.
Also in 1951 he met a young actress, Franca Rame, whose beauty he had admired on the pages of the magazine Le Ore. She was born to a theatrical family: her father, Domenico Rame, was the lead actor and capocomico (a sort of combined artistic director and stage director) of an itinerant theater company that performed in towns and villages of the Padana Valley in Northern Italy. Although he is a minor figure in the panorama of contemporary national Italian theater, he was so widely beloved by the local public (mainly for his personal generosity and for the assistance he always gave striking workers and the oppressed in general) that, in Lombardy, Franca Rame is still referred to as “Domenico Rame’s daughter,” even though she is an international celebrity on her own.
Fo and Rame shared common views on political and social matters; both had socialist parents, and they were also convinced of the need for the artist to become socially engaged. Yet, even if they embraced Marxism, they never believed that art, and particularly theater, should be a pure means of political propaganda. This stance caused the couple many problems when they ventured together in the worlds of cinema, theater, and television, because in addition to the foreseeable attacks from the conservatives, the neofascists, and the clergy, they had to face attacks from the most dogmatic wings of the Left as well. The two became engaged in 1951. Rame had to take the initiative, because Fo, in spite of any encouragement on her part, proved terribly shy and tended to avoid the young woman. The two got married in 1954, and the following year Jacopo, their only son, was born.
In 1953 and 1954, working in collaboration with Parenti and Giustino Durano, Fo was the author and actor of the shows Il dito nell’occhio (1953, A Finger in the Eye) and I sani da legare (1954, Fit to Be Tied Up), which were staged at the Piccolo Teatro of Milan. Il dito nell’occhio is composed of twenty-one sketches on the history of humanity. It is a reexamination of historical events by focusing on common people rather than on the traditional historical characters. For instance, the sketch on the construction of Cheops’s pyramids emphasizes the thousands of slaves who died in the effort, while another sketch attributes the idea of the Trojan horse to an unknown soldier and not to the mythical figure of Ulysses. I sani da legare opened a year after the critical and commercial success of Il dito nell’occhio. This second play consists of twenty-four sketches about life in Milan, even though the name of the city is never mentioned in the play. It depicts the underdogs of Milan and offers a strong political satire against the governing Christian Democratic Party. I sani da legare was always sold out, even if staged during the summer months, a period that, traditionally in Italy, is not favorable to theatrical events. Both shows experienced censorship interference.
In 1955 Fo and Rame worked in movie production in Rome. Fo became a screenwriter and worked for many productions, having signed a contract with the Dino de Laurentis Film Company. In 1956 he was the co-author and lead actor of Lo suitato (The Duffer), a motion picture directed by Lizzani. It is the story of Achille, ironically nicknamed “pié veloce” (swift foot), an errand man for an important newspaper. He longs to become a journalist, and in order to achieve this end, he continuously invents news from which he draws scoops. Even though this movie established Fo’s national fame as an actor, it cannot be said to be fully successful from an artistic point of view, as Fo’s personal and improvisational acting style was at odds with the movie medium.
After this experience, he collaborated in the screenwriting of three more motion pictures in 1957: Souvenir d’ltalie (Souvenir from Italy) and Nata di marzo (Born in March), directed by Antonio Pietrangeli, and Rascel-Fifi, directed by Guido Leoni. The results of this activity were of mediocre quality. Moreover, Rame grew increasingly dissatisfied with the cinematic medium and urged Fo to return to the stage. In 1959 the Compagnia Fo-Rame was established, and for the next nine years the company opened the theater season at the Odeon in Milan with a new play or show. In addition to taking part in her husband’s comedies, Rame took charge of the administration responsibilities of the company, while Fo focused more on playwriting and acting.
Fo’s activity as a dramatist had begun in the 1950s, when he wrote seven farcical texts that were collected and performed later under two titles, Ladri, manichini e donne nude (1958, Thieves, Dummies and Naked Women) and Comica finale (1958, Final Gag). The plots were inspired by real life but evolved into paradoxical and ultimately surreal situations. He wrote his first three “regular” plays between 1959 and 1961: Gli arcangeli non giocano a flipper (1959; translated as Archangels Don’t Play Pinball, 1987), Aveva due pistole con gli occhi bianchi e neri (1960, He Had Two Pistols with White and Black Eyes), and Chi ruba un piede é fortunato in amore (1961, He Who Steals a Foot Is Lucky in Love). The first play, written for twelve actors who play more than forty roles, is about a gang of scoundrels, always ready to steal, blackmail, and swindle while making silly jokes. The work is noticeable for the songs commenting on the action of the main character, II Lungo (The Long Man), who is in love with La Bionda (The Blonde). The couple celebrates a fake marriage, much in the style of Luigi Pirandello’s Ma non é una cosa seria (1919, But It’s Nothing Serious), a marriage from which a variety of misunderstandings will stem. Echoes of the European theatrical avant-garde experimentations of the beginning of the twentieth century can also be perceived in this play.
Aveva due pistole con gli occhi bianchi e neri is sililar in structure to the former play but tends to evoke more the tones and atmospheres of black comedy. The protagonist is a man who has lost his memory; a host of physicians studies him assiduously in order to determine whether his forgetfulness is caused by a physical problem or is merely a psychological state. Allusions to the comedies of Plautus and Molière are apparent in the text, especially when the protagonist’s doppelgänger enters. The “double” is a fugitive gangster, Giovanni Gallina, who controls the activities of a vast organization of pilferers, petty swindlers, and pickpockets. The comedy is built totally on paradoxes and misunderstandings, especially when the group of thieves decides to form a cooperative in order to work with better conditions. This cooperative creates a crisis within the state institutions as it undermines all the jobs and careers (such as police officers, lawyers, judges, and crime journalists) that rely on illegal activities to survive. The comedy reaches its dénouement when the man with amnesia turns out to be a priest and the deputy director of the prison from which the gangster escaped, and who has tried to gather the bewildered people who surround him in order to redeem them. In this play Fo relies heavily, for the first time, on a Chorus, which comments, with fifteen songs, on the action taking place on stage.
Paolo Puppa, in his Il teatro di Dario Fo: Dalla scena alla piazza (1978, Dario Fo’s Theater: From the Stage to the Piazza), regarded the third comedy, Chi ruba un piede è fortunate in amore, as the most bookish of Fo’s plays. What strikes one immediately are the reduced number of characters in the play (only eight) and the absence of a Chorus. In Chi ruba un piede è fortunate in amore the myth of Apollo and Daphne, deprived of any classical dignity and cast in a farcical light that stresses the popular and possibly vulgar developments of the theme, triggers a freewheeling succession of misunderstandings, gags, and misrepresentations. Daphne is a nymph who is turned into a plant by her own father to prevent Apollo from having sex with her, and Mercury is on the whole a debauchee and a protector of thieves and schemers. The plot involves stealing a foot from a statue of Mercury in a museum and burying it in a building site to blackmail the construction company. (In Italy, when archaeological remains–even if not of great importance–are found at a building site, work can be stopped for years.) The play then becomes a bitter satire of the Italian ruling elite of the 1960s, a world of shrewd and dishonest politicians and businessmen, constantly prone to corruption, all of whom resort to Mafia-like methods in order to raise more money to obtain more power. These early plays represents Fo’s willingness to find a personal and original voice in the theatrical panorama of Italian play writing of the 1960s.
By 1962 Fo had earned such a steady reputation in the Italian world of entertainment that he was asked to direct and host Canzonissima, a musical contest associated with the Italian national lottery, which was broadcast on prime time on Saturdays when only one state-owned television channel (RAI 1) existed. It was the most important and expensive RAI variety show; the offer was not only a sign of appreciation for his skills as a comedian and stage writer but also an acknowledgment of his popularity and commercial success. Fo and Rame took the opportunity to spice up this traditional “light entertainment for families” with a heavy dose of political satire, depicting the lives of commoners in their sketches and alluding repeatedly to deeds and misdeeds of the Italian ruling class. The show stirred huge controversies among the public and the press, and censorship was often solicited by conservative and clerical areas of Italian society. Fo was also sued for obscene speech, because during one sketch he hinted at (but did not actually pronounce) the most common Italian slang word for “penis.” Another controversial sketch about a journalist killed by the Mafia led some politicians to protest, while Fo and Rame received death threats. RAI intervened by placing the couple under police protection and by cutting and censoring the program script. When the cuts became regular practice, Fo and Rame left the show after thirteen episodes, and the Italian Actors’ Union urged its members to refuse to replace them. Fo and Rame did not reappear in any RAI program until 1977 but were at this point considered martyrs of a sort of Italian McCarthyism, which helped increase their popularity throughout Italy.
They continued their work in Teatro Odeon in Milan, and a year after the Canzonissima incident they staged a new play, Isabella, tre caravelle e un caccianalle (1963, Isabella, Three Sailing Ships and a Con Man), which angered political right-wing groups and caused violent attacks against the Odeon. To protect the couple, the Italian Communist party supplied bodyguards and security for the theater. Isabella, tre caravelle e un cacciaballe is the story of an actor who has been sentenced to death for having staged a forbidden play, Fernando de Rojas’s Celestina (circa 1495). The plot seems to advance toward a happy ending as, while the preparations for the execution go on, the convict is promised a pardon if he and his company will agree to stage a play about Queen Isabella and Christopher Columbus. So the scaffold is turned into a stage, that is, a place of freedom, but only for a short time, because as the performance ends, the promise is not kept, and the execution takes place. It is obvious that the play recalls Fo’s experience with Canzonissimaat RAI and comments heavily on Italian censorshipl practices.
In September 1964, with the play Settimo: Ruba un po’ meno (Seventh: Steal a Little Less), Fo once again dealt with a theme that had always attracted his interest: political corruption. The play was written by Fo specifically for his wife, as the protagonist is a woman. The action starts in a depositary of coffins at City Hall, where four undertakers have just laid a coffin on a catafalque. One of the undertakers is a woman, and the action ensues from her naiveté and gullibility: she is led to believe she possesses special paranormal powers that allow her to talk to the dead, and also that the cemetery is going to be moved because of land speculation on construction developments. The audience soon discovers, however, that the joke played on the woman is in fact real and that corrupt public officials are making illegal deals to have the cemetery moved. The comedy is a pretext to expose the problem of corruption of a political class always ready to betray its public mandate for personal interests.
The next year Fo wrote La colpa è sempre del diavolo (1965, It’s Always the Devil’s Fault), a drama set in Lombardy between the end of the thirteenth century and the first half of the fourteenth, at the time of the prosecution of the Catari, a group of heretics who, in addition to a theological contrast with the official Church, fought for a radical renewal of medieval society, calling for the abolition of privileges held by feudal lords, kings, and the Church itself. Fo was deeply interested in Middle Ages culture, namely in the conflict between the hegemonic culture of the upper classes and the lower-class culture of the common folk, which found its spokesman in the jester. Fo has always perceived himself as a modern jester, one who has self-ascribed the mission to denounce, by means of jokes and mockery, the embezzlements and ideological falsifications to which the modern plebeians (the working class, the unemployed, the poor, women, all the downtrodden of the capitalist era) are exposed. The main character of La colpa è sempre del diavolo is Brancaleone, a minor but sentimental devil/dwarf. He is bizarre in his use of speech and deprived of any sort of supernatural aura. He enters the body of the female protagonist, Amalusanta, to achieve his purposes. In this play Fo relies largely on quick-changing disguises and fast rhythm. The action develops without any delays until the farcical ending, when the heretics/communards rebel, claiming their long-denied rights. This play did not receive positive reviews from the critics; as Piero Novelli wrote in Ganetta delPopob (11 September 1965), it was so overloaded with gags and scene changes that it created genuine confusion on stage.
The political events of 1968 brought major changes to Fo’s activity. Events such as the Cultural Revolution in China and the crushing of the so-called Prague Spring period in Czechoslovakia raised much debate among the traditional Italian and European Left. In Italy the leading international role of the Soviet Union Communist Party was questioned, and many members and supporters of the Italian Communist Party (the second political party in the country and the largest communist party in the world outside the Eastern Bloc) abandoned the organization and formed groups and movements whose stances ranged from a strong call for radical reforms in the framework of a “socialismo dal volto umano” (socialism with a human face), to be pursued in a dialectic relationship with the parliamentary area of the Left, to revolutionary projects in overt opposition to the Italian Communist Party, seen as a traitor of the working class and an ally of the bourgeoisie. Though these movements remained a minority in the panorama of the Italian Left, they were extremely active and attracted many trade unionists who were well rooted in the workplace and many important intellectuals as well; moreover, the “New Left,” with its idealistic vision of a more just world, naturally exerted a strong appeal for youth. In these years the Italian Communist Party changed its strategy and formulated the “linea del compromesso storico” (line of historical compromise): that is, the proposal of an agreement between the Socialists and the Christian Democrats to govern the country together.
Fo never became a member of the Italian Communist Party, while Rame did, even though he considered these new non-aligned movements with the utmost interest. Fo, however, regarded the Communist Party as a political landmark that could not be relinquished in the historical process of emancipation of the working class. For this reason he decided to start cooperating with ARCI (the Communist Party association for recreation and culture, counting about one million members), and, after dissolving the Compagnia Fo-Rame, he founded the Compagnia Nuova Scena. Thus, the traditional theater halls with their red velvet armchairs were abandoned, and the new company began touring Italy and foreign countries to stage their works in places that reflected its social engagement and its popular bias: circuses, squares, culture clubs and associations (especially the Case del Popolo, sites managed by the communist area trade unions, where the workers could meet, socialize, and discuss political issues), university assembly halls, and factories occupied by striking workers.
During this period Fo staged two new plays, La signora è da buttare (1967, Throw the Lady Out) and Grande pantomima con bandiere e pupazzi gandi, piccli e medi (1968, Grand Pantomime with Flags and Small, Middle-Sized and Large Puppets). The action of both plays is set in circuses, and Fo took full advantage of all the technical and scenic solutions offered by this kind of setting. The lady who should be thrown away is America, with her capitalism, consumerism, racism, drugs, cult for technology, and, most of all, warfare and imperialism. The main target of Fo’s satirical attacks was the Vietnam War, seen as a sort of epitome of the (organized) aggression natural to the capitalistic system. Comments made in the play about John F. Kennedy’s assassination were considered so outrageous, especially in the United States, that President Lyndon Johnson and American authorities denied Fo a visa to enter the country, a prohibition that remained until 1986. Grande pantomima con bandiere e pupaizi grandi, piccoli e medi deals with the theme of the continuity of fascism in the structure of contemporary bourgeois state democracies. This popular farce evolves gradually into political invective against the bourgeoisie, the military, and the Catholic hierarchy. At center stage Fo placed a giant puppet that vomits kings, queens, generals, bishops, and other “authorities” symbolizing the occult powers governing Italy and Europe. With this play Fo moved away from popular farce and progressed decidedly into the realm of pure political farce. He politicized his theater even more in this period, not only through his plays but also by choosing to abandon the traditional theater circuit and present his works in the streets and political halls throughout the country. His theater became didactic.
A crucial year for Fo’s art and career was 1969, when he completed the first version of Mistero buffo (Comic Mystery), considered his masterpiece, in which he proved both his full maturity as a playwright and his sensitivity and virtuosity as an interpreter. Mistero buffo, as the title suggests, is a sort of medieval mystery play organized as a series of monologues centering on episodes adapted from both the Canonic and Apocryphal Gospels, in addition to other literary and popular sources. The point of view is that of a jester, who offers a lively, comic, and often bitterly satiric account of facts surrounding Jesus Christ’s life and other topics connected to both Christendom and Catholic religion. The play consists of several parts: “Lauda dei battuti” (The Hymn of the Flagellants), “La strage degli innocenti” (The Slaughter of the Innocents), “Resurrezione di Laz-zaro” (The Resurrection of Lazarus), “Passione” (The Passion), “II matto e la morte” (Death and the Madman), “Moralita del cieco e dello storpio” (The Morality Play of the Blind Man and the Cripple), “Maria viene a conoscere della condanna imposta al figlio” (Mary Learns of Her Son’s Sentence), “La crocifissione” (The Crucifixion), “Bonifacio VIII,” “Le nozze di Cana” (The Marriage at Cana), “La nascita del giullare” (The Birth of the Jester), “La nascita del villano” (The Birth of the Villain), and “Gioco del matto sotto la croce” (The Mad Man beneath the Cross), some of which were added to Mistero buffo over the years in the many revisions Fo has made of this work.
The most important feature of the play is its language, an amusing and charming mix of dialects of Northern Italy, giving way to a strange language that never existed as natural speech but is nonetheless quite comprehensible to any Italian speaker. This result was achieved though some linguistic expedients, such as reiterating the most obscure terms in several different dialects, making the actor’s speech rich, redundant, and spectacular (much in the style of Francois Rabelais’s Gargantua , an obvious cultural reference for Mistero buffo) and allowing the audience to catch words and phrases that make the general meaning perfectly clear. This practice also reflects the working reality of Middle Ages jesters who, traveling from one place to another in a time when differences between local dialects were far deeper than today (typically, a strict dialect could not be understood by people living just a few miles away), were forced to resort to this linguistic mixture to communicate with their audiences; a trace of this jester-like language can still be found among circus artists, especially clowns. Most of the capacity of the play to convey meaning relied on Fo’s superb acting skills in mimicry and gesture. Between the scenes taken from the Gospels, parts in the Italian language are interpolated: in these segments the actor covers themes in some way connected to the previous or next scene, extending topics by commenting on or introducing the following action; or he deals with recent events thematically linked to the representation, by partly improvising; or he comments on art, theater, literature, history, in a scholarly way, in order to challenge official and traditional positions and interpretations.
In Mistero buffo, Fo also resorted largely to grammelot (or gramelot), a way of speaking that reproduces the tone and rhythm typical of a specific language or dialect, but is made up almost entirely of invented words; sometimes, no existing idiom is imitated, and grammelot becomes a pure sequence of expressive sounds, such as noises, animal sounds, roars, cries, gurgles, or mumbling. The message will be understood anyway, if the actor knows how to manage this difficult technique. In the past grammelot was part of the technical toolbox of any comedian, and Fo’s example revitalized the tradition among many Italian actors. The revolutionary origin of grammelot is apparent: it is a method to communicate in an unequivocal way ideas that cannot be expressly said, because a meaningless sequence of sounds, separated from its theatrical context of gestures and facial expressions, cannot and will not be accepted as evidence in a court case.
Mistero buffo was attacked on grounds of alleged irreverence and blasphemy. But Fo’s mockery and satire are directed against those who use religion as an instrument of power and oppression, not against religion in itself. Above all, the attitude of the playwright toward the person of Jesus Christ (whatever Fo’s personal stance on religious matters is) is one of respect and sympathy: the presence of the Savior, continuously evoked in the background of the action in the various episodes, emerges as a symbol of human aspiration to a more just world. Moreover, Fo’s approach to holy texts did not differ much from those of distinguished churchmen such as John Wycliffe, Jan Hus, or Martin Luther.
The most famous episode, “Bonifacio VIII,” is a hard-hitting attack against the papacy and its temporal power, which has as its site Rome, defined in the episode as “The great beast.” As the pope is getting dressed with all his ornaments and jewels, symbols of his terrestrial power, Christ arrives looking like a poor beggar, representing the other, more authentic side of the Church. Christ is at odds with Boniface VIII, who at first pretends to be kind toward Christ, offering him his mantle and jewels. Christ sees through his hypocrisy: Boniface is being kind only hoping to be rewarded for his gesture, and he is sent away with a tremendous kick.
The 1970s were an agitated period for Italy and for Fo as well. He soon became at odds with the Communist Party leadership, and his collaboration with ARCI was discontinued. Also, the Compagnia Nuova Scena was dissolved, and he and Rame started their third theater group, the Collettivo Teatrale La Comune. This initiative was conducted with Avanguardia Operaia, the best-organized group of the New Left, which was well established in the factories of Northern Italy and had tens of thousands of members having an active and qualified role in workplaces and trade unions. Fo’s productions became more linked to contemporary events and more inspired by militant political attitudes. In addition to Mistero buffo, two pieces reflecting Fo’s strong political engagement were staged in 1969: L’operaio conosce 300 parole, ilpadrone 1000: per questo lui è il padrone (The Worker Knows 300 Words, the Boss 1000: That’s Why He’s the Boss), a work based on Italian politician Antonio Gramsci’s conception of culture as an instrument for economical and social emancipation; and Il funerala del padrone (The Boss’s Death), set in a factory occupied by laid-off workers. The central themes of L’operaio conosce 300 parole, il padrone 1000: per questo luiè il padrone are culture and knowledge. The prtagonists are a group of workers who are dismantling the library in a Casa del Popolo in order for the space to become a recreation hall. The books are put in cases that look like coffins and brought down to the cellar. Suddenly, however, the voices of Vladimir Lenin, Mao Tsetung, Gramsic, and the Apostles are heard, and these historical characters appear onstage to portray significant episodes of their lives. This play is an invocation to the working class to gain as much knowledge as possible; for Fo, knowledge is the only means to attain freedom. In Il funerala del padrone a group of laid-off workers decides to stage the factory owner’s funeral in the commedica dell;arte tradition. Fo’s writing in this period changed once again as it became less farcical and popular and more politically operative, in the sense that he wanted not only to stimulate reflection on social and political events but also, and more importantly for Fo’s to promote political action. Fo’s new aesthetic was that of the agitprop method; that is, employing simple and direct language onstage and having the spectators participate in the action of the play.
A dramatic incident at the end of 1969 marked Fo both personally and artistically. A bomb killed nineteen people in a bank in Piazza Fontana, Milan; this brutal anonymous attack started what became known as “The season of bombs,” and the word “stragismo” (slaughter policy) made its entry into the vocabulary of the Italian language. The Right and the Left accused each other of being responsible for the increasing number of bomb attacks, killings of activists, and other violence. Rightists argued that the opposite front aimed to create an atmosphere of confusion and mistrust toward the established order to promote an armed Communist revolution; leftists thought that terror and confusion were orchestrated by the conservative establishment itself, in order to justify social antidemocratic measures and, ultimately, the coming back to some form of overtly Fascist regime. Fo was among the staunchest supporters of the thesis of an antidemocratic conspiracy managed by the group of people with leading institutional roles. In 1970 he staged Morte accidental di un anarchico (Accidental Death of an Anarchist), inspired by the Piazza Fontana incident and centering on the death of the anarchist Pino Pinelli at the police headquarters of Milan in 1969. It is believed that the authorities tried to frame the anarchists in order to pass restrictive laws and that Pinelli, who allegedly committed suicide by jumping from the fourth floor of police headquarters, was actually thrown out, thus murdered. This play, like the others produced in this period, were frequently revised by Fo in order to keep pace with the continuously evolving situation: for instance, Pinelli’s death gave way to a series of bomb attacks and retaliations as well as controversies regarding trials and convictions connected to those events. These debates are still quite bitter.
Another play Fo extensively revised is the Grande pantomima con bandiere e pupazzi grandi, piccoli e medi, staged with the new title of Morte e resurrezione di un pupazzo (Death and Resurrection of a Puppet), in response to a
vicious attack in L’Unità (the official newspaper of the Italian Communist Party), which in one of its columns had defined Fo as a pupazzo impazzito (a maddened puppet). At this point he was attacked by both the Left and the Right, not to mention the clergy. His only solace was that his shows were followed by thousands of devoted spectators.
In Morte e resurrezione di un pupazzo, Palmiro Togliatti (second secretary general of the Italian Communist Party and the object of a sort of worship for Party activists) is the target of heavy mockery and parody. Fo seemed, in this period, to be attracted to the formula of the “guerrilla theater,” marked by a strong interest in international revolutionary movements; in 1972 he produced Fedayn, a play focused on the condition of Palestinians, in which he brought onstage nine actual members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), who recited monologues and sang songs mostly in Arabic. In the play he also tried to present the PLO members as a continuation of the Italian partisans who fought Nazism. For Fedayn, Fo incorporated theater, movies (screens were set up on the stage), and slides.
The plays that followed, Ordine! Per Dio.ooo.ooo.ooo (1972, Order, By God!) and Pum, Pum! Chi è? La polizia! (1972, Knock, Knock! Who’s There? Police!), are both about police repression and brutality. Fo was accused of contempt for the armed forces because of the poster promoting the show Pum, Pum! Chi è? La polizia! This play is once again about the Piazza Fontana slaughter and Pinelli’s death. The work opens with a voice stressing that what is about to be seen is not fantasy but reality. The action of the play takes place entirely in the office of an executive bureaucrat of the Department of “Reserved Affairs” of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The executive is seen at work while he creates false evidence in order to accuse and incriminate the anarchists for the massacre and to conceal any involvement by government authorities and military generals in the terrorist action. The responsibility of the slaughter fell on the Left; Pinelli’s alibi was undercut, and moderate left-wingers were arrested and presented as terrorists. The play can be considered a pamphlet spectacle and a protest spectacle. More than thirty years have passed since the bomb explosion in Piazza Fontana, and still no one knows why this deadly terrorist attack was carried out.
Late in 1972, political differences with Avanguardia Operaia led Fo to discontinue the collaboration with La Comune. During the previous two years, La Comune had grown to a nationwide cultural organization, with about ninety seats and seven hundred thousand members, becoming a serious competitor for the associations of the same nature that operated under the control of the main Italian political parties. In 1973 Fo’s company moved to Cinema Rossini in Milan and sustained raids and censorship. On 8 March 1973 another episode had a profound effect on Fo and Rame: she was kidnapped, beaten, and raped by a gang of neofascists. Yet, only two months later she was onstage again. Also in 1973 Guerra di popolo in Cile (A People’s War in Chile), a work about the rebellion against the Chilean military government, inspired by the coup that overthrew elected Socialist president Salvador Allende that year, was staged at the Teatro Palladio of Milan. In the play it is suggested that the tactic used in Chile was also being used in Italy to overturn democratic practices. Fo was arrested (but soon released) when he tried to prevent the police from stopping the performance. Later in the year, Fo, Rame, and the members of their theater company occupied an old abandoned building in Milan called Palazzina Liberty. After completely restoring it, including its theater, they opened the new structure in 1974 with Non si paga! Non si paga! (translated as We Can’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! 1978).
This play, about a tax protest by housewives, features one of Fo’s most famous gags: two women who steal regularly from a supermarket, concealing items under their overcoats as if they were pregnant, suddenly find themselves surrounded by the people in the supermarket when a stolen bottle of mineral water breaks, alarming everyone into believing there is going to be an imminent birth. In the play the idea of “prezzo politico” (political price) is also introduced. The women enter the supermarket and decide at first what they feel is the right price is for each item (half of what is on the price tag) and later decide not to pay at all. It would seem the play inspired many Italians, as for a period of time it was common practice to apply “political prices” in supermarkets, butcher shops, and cinemas in several major Italian cities. Indro Mondanelli, editor of the newspaper Il Giornale, called for Fo’s arrest because, according to Mondanelli, Fo had instigated the thieves.
The two plays that followed were linked to themes of contemporary interest: II Fanfani rapito (1975, Fanfani Kidnapped) was written against the background of the political election that year, and La marijuana della mamma è la più bella (1976, Mother’s Marijuana Is the Best) deals with the increasing problem of drug use among young working-class Italians. For both plays, Fo used a scenario, a basic written plot in the commedia dell’arte style, which was extended evening after evening with improvised components. The first play, written in only eight days just before a general election, is a work of political fantasy, being centered on the imaginary kidnapping of senator Amintore Fanfani, an historical leader of the Christian Democratic Party who had been prime minister several times. The crime is perpetrated by gangsters hired by Giulio Andreotti, a party fellow and rival hoping to win more votes for the Christian Democratic Party with this scheme. The setting is surreal, a sort of dream dimension, and the action is a sequence of grotesque and exhilarating scenes connected to the complex political situation of the period.
La marijuana della mamma è la più bella is simpler in structure, for it focuses on a single theme, and the action is set in a house where a family–a grandfather, a mother, and her drug-addicted son–has transformed their living room into a cannabis plantation. The opening scene, centered on the description of the “home plantation,” is quite funny, with the presentation of the extemporary greenhouse equipment: wet sheets hanging from the ceiling, a large fan, and a hair dryer provide the plants with an ideal humidity level, while lamps and other common house tools are put to similar use. Fo uses the family microcosm to present a proletarian story and to expose major and minor drug traffickers connected to organized crime and, most of all, the hypocrisy of religious and law-enforcement establishments in regard to the drug problem. The moral of the story is that the rich consume drugs, while the working class is consumed by drugs.
Toward the end of the 1970s Fo began to write for and with Rame a series of one-act plays and monologues about the female condition. In 1977 Tutta casa, letto e chiesa (All House, Bed and Church; translated as Adult Orgasm Escapes from the Zoo, 1985), which consecrated Rame as a great actress, was staged. Her participation in the writing process of this play was significant: she worked for months collecting material, selecting and adapting it for the stage. The work consists of five monologues by five different women. The choice of using monologues was practical, as it allowed the spectacle to be performed easily in factories and neighborhood social centers. The first monologue, “Una donna tutta sola” (A Woman Alone), is the story of a housewife as it emerges from her conversations with a neighbor living across the street, to whom she describes the solitude, hardships, and unhappiness of a woman who cannot understand male logic but who, in the meantime, is too discouraged to do anything to change her life. Her husband often beats her (saying that he does it because he loves her) or uses her as a sexual object to satisfy his bestial instincts, while she does not respond and remains stiff as a statue during intercourse. What emerges is a theme often confronted by Fo and Rame in this series of works: female frigidity induced by male oppression.
Another monologue, “La mamma fricchettona” (A Hippie Mother), is centered on a leftist/punk housewife trying to find her son, a drug addict who had run away from home. The segment begins with the mother hiding in a church in order to escape the police who are after her. She enters a confessional, where she explains to the priest how she gave up her life for her family. She has disguised herself as a gypsy in order to infiltrate the environment of drug users, where she hopes to find her son. The disguise, however, has made her a new person, as she is seen in a different light. Once she is found by her son, who in the meantime has cleaned up his act, she is unable to return home to play the role of a mother again, as she has adopted a new identity.
The theme of the ways that women experience physical love is tackled by Fo once again in “Abbiano tutte le stessa storia” (We All Have the Same Story), whose protagonist, by interrupting intercourse with her boyfriend, tries to get from her partner a rapporto (in Italian, rapporto can mean both intercourse and relationship) that is different than usual. This series of one-act plays written for Rame were highly successful, even though Rame stated on opening night that “L’unico limite é che il testo sia stato scritto prevalentamente da Dario Fo, il quale, essendo inequivocabilmente un uomo e nonostante tutti i libri e le opere che gli ho procurato, non ha potuto penetrare fino in fondo le contraddizioni, le umiliazioni, le vessazioni a cui noi siamo sottoposte” (Most of the writing was done by Dario Fo, which is perhaps the only flaw of the work as he is unequivocally a man and notwithstanding all the books and works I have procured him, he was unable to penetrate the contradictions, humiliations and harassments to which we [women] are subject). Notwithstanding this flaw, Tutta casa, letto e chiesa was staged all over Europe and in Canada and the United States as well.
In 1976 the new managing board of RAI realized, in the wake of Fo’s increasing international fame, that he had been prevented from working on television for far too long. They invited him to tape a program, and in 1977 he accepted but demanded the recording take place at Palazzina Liberty in front of a live audience. The program Il teatro di Dario Fo, which included four plays he had written, was a hit; but when the latest version of Mistero buffo was presented, a Vatican spokesmen described it as blasphemous, and Italian right-wingers protested. The series was watched by thousands of Italians, and millions tuned in to watch Mistero buffo.
As the cooperation in playwriting with Rame had been so fruitful, Fo continued the experience, producing more monologues for actors, such as Storia della tigre (translated as The Tale of a Tiger: A Comic Monologue, 1984), Il primo miracolo di Gesù Bambino (The First Miracle of Jesus as a Child), Dedalo e Icaro, and Il sacrifico di lsacco (Isaac’s Sacrifice), all written between 1978 and 1980 and collected in Storia della tigre e altre storie (The Tale of a Tiger and Other Tales) in 1980. These plays are based on the use of metaphor and allegory to convey Fo’s message. Storia delta tigre depicts a soldier wounded during the Chinese Long March who is rescued by a tiger that gives him shelter in her den and takes care of him and of her cub. The man remains with the tigers for some time, and when he departs, the animals follow him and eventually defend him and some farmhands from the repression of a tyrant. The story is based on a Chinese myth, and, as Fo explained, the play is an allegory on the necessity to never give up class struggle. The second play is also metaphorical. It is the story of the infant Jesus, the son of an immigrant southern family who is shunned and mocked by his peers, who call him Palestine. In this story Jesus performs his first miracle, giving life to clay statues in order to have playmates.
In 1978 Fo completed the third version of Mistero buffo; he also rewrote and directed La storia di un soldato (Story of a Soldier), based on Igor Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale (1918). Later, he also adapted and directed operas from Giocchino Rossini.
Fo could not avoid being interested in the Moro Affair, probably the most shocking political crime in the history of the Italian Republic: in March 1978 a commando of the Red Brigades (a clandestine revolutionary Communist organization) kidnapped Aldo Moro, premier and leader of the Christian Democratic Party. For ransom the kidnappers requested that several political prisoners and common criminals be freed from Italy’s prisons. State authorities and Moro’s party friends refused to negotiate, and the statesman was murdered after being imprisoned for two months. Many thought Moro had been cynically sacrificed for political reasons, but some went so far as to presume the existence of connections between state authorities and the kidnappers. La tragedia di Aldo Moro (The Tragedy of Aldo Moro), published in the periodical Quotidiano dei lavoratori in June 1979, embraced the latter thesis; it is an intensely dramatic work, based on the letters Moro wrote from the place where he was kept. In spite of the interest of the theme and the considerable artistic value of the text, the play has never been performed publicly.
In 1981 Fo wrote Clacson, trombette e pernacchi (Trumpets and Raspberries; translated as About Face: A Farce, 1983), again drawing from Plautus and Moliére the motif of the doppelgänger. In this play the man who has trouble with his double is Giovanni Agnelli, also known as “L’Awocato” (The Lawyer), the richest and most influential Italian entrepreneur, whose family owned FIAT, Italy’s biggest car manufacturer. A worker prevents the “false Agnelli” from being kidnapped; the attempted kidnapping will however set in motion all Italian Intelligence Units and special police corps, giving way to a series of humorous situations. Also in 1981 Fo created L’opera dello sghignano (The Laugh Opera), inspired by John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728). The following year he staged Il fabulazzo osceno (1982, Obscene Fable), a play structured according to the model of Mistero buffo in which a single actor alternates fixed texts with partially improvised comments on obscenity. The point of the play is that the concept of obscenity does not coincide with transgression but rather with prohibition, in the sense that everything that is forbidden becomes obscene.
In 1984 American authorities suspended their veto on Fo’s entry into the country, and two years later he was eventually free to tour the United States, presenting his works and lecturing in many theaters and universities. Despite worldwide acclaim, there was still trouble for Fo. In 1983 Italian censors decided that Coppia aperta (translated as The Open Couple: A One-Act Comedy, 1984), another play focusing on the female condition and male oppression (even when masked as open-mindedness), should be restricted to audiences over the age of eighteen. That same year, while touring in Argentina, some performances were disturbed by right-wing and Christian conservative youths who threw stones at the theater hall windows and even threw a tear-gas grenade onto the stage.
In 1986 Fo wrote Hellequin Harlekin Arlekin: Arlecchino, as the result of a workshop on Harlequin that became a show; Fo’s Harlequin was quite different from Giorgio Strehler’s insofar as the use of sources was different. In fact, Fo sought Harlequin’s precursors in the tradition of the popular commedia dell’arte character Zannis and not in the codified characters of Carlo Goldoni’s theater as Strehler had. In 1989 Il Papa e la strega (translated as The Pope and the Witch, 1990) was staged. Fo imagines that a reactionary pope has been struck by acute crippling lumbago (in Italian: “colpo della strega,” literally “witches’ stroke"), and, in order to be cured, he needs the witch’s help. The witch has actually been given the task to cure him from serious mental torment, as the pope is haunted by the idea of holding in his arms millions of Third World children who are starving to death. From the encounter with the magic healer, the pope’s conversion will take place. He will thus promulgate an encyclical letter in which he supports drug legalization, the use of contraceptives, and, most important, the return of the Church to its original theological poverty. Beyond the pleasures of the paradoxical, the play can be seen as a harsh criticism toward the authorities managing the centers for drug addiction, prevention, and care, and the necessity of legalizing drug use is proposed as a solution to the addiction problem.
After addressing the devastating illegal drug problem, Fo turned to the issue of AIDS, with Zitti! Stiamo precipitando! (Quiet! We Are All Falling!) in 1990. The opening act is set in an asylum for the insane, where the inmates are playing war games that recall the first Gulf War operations. The patients are in fact being used as guinea pigs to test new medicines. The main character is an engineer, an erotomaniac (he can never get enough sex) who is quite frustrated. He fears AIDS to such an extent that he has friends’ and relatives’ blood analyzed (blood samples are drawn by trained mosquitoes). The patients in the asylum, following the injection of an experimental bacillus, seem to have developed AIDS immunity; as it appears that this immunity can be sexually transmitted, a therapy based on intensification of sexual activity is realized. The second act takes place in the engineer’s grand country villa, where his wife and daughter, with their respective lovers, are betting on how many people will be murdered daily by the Mafia. This play can be defined as a grotesque situation comedy, in which a concoction of themes is dealt with in a way that enhances the monstrous features of power, even if people have become accustomed to them to a point that they have become unaware of their true nature.
Between 1991 and 1993 Fo wrote Johan Padan a la descoverta de le Americhe (translated as Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas, 2001), which was later adapted as a cartoon, and a performance titled Dario Fo recita Ruzzante (1993, Dario Fo Recites Ruzzante). The latter is an adaptation of a collection of works by Angelo Beolco (known as “II Ruzzante"), an anticlassicist actor and author of the sixteenth century, translated into many modern Northern Italian dialects. The model is the same as Mistero buffo and Fabulazzo osceno: no theater decor, and one actor who performs a text or lectures or makes improvised digressions on recent events. One of the main themes of the work is war, seen from the perspective of the commoner who finds himself involved by force in a situation he fears and hates. In 1993 Fo also wrote Mamma! I Sanculotti! (Mama! The Sans-Culottes!), a metaphorical play that is based on an actual event, an attempted coup d’état in Italy by the military supported by sections of the Secret Service. The purpose of the play was to unveil the schemes of the so-called diverted intelligence services (parts of Italian intelligence suspected of having pursued antidemocratic aims outside institutional control) and other “Italian mysteries” such as bomb attacks, exploding cars, inexplicable fatal accidents, and honest magistrates who become the target of obscure machinations. Beginning with this play, Fo became more interested in problems regarding the Italian justice system, focusing particularly on the pressures exerted against judges who only wish to do their duty.
On 17 July 1995, Fo was disabled and almost lost his sight because of an attack of cerebral ischemia. He survived and recovered within a year. In the meantime, Rame continued to manage their theater company. Rame also took advantage of this year of reduced activity to organize the Archivo Franca Rame Dario Fo, a full list of Fo’s works with related information, together with comprehensive documentation (photographs, videos, music scores, drawings, playbills, press reviews, scripts, and legal documents) on Fo’s career; all these materials can now be accessed on the World Wide Web at <http://www.archivio.francarame.it/home.html>. Fo returned to the stage in 1996 with La Bibbia dell’Imperatore, la Bibbia dei villani (The Emperor’s Bible, The Peasants’ Bible) derived, as the author has stated, from an “illuminated code of the 9th century."
The theme of Il diavolo con le zinne (1997, The Devil with Tits) is again corruption and the insidious dangers threatening righteous magistrates. The protagonist is a sixteenth-century judge who, because of his exceptional moral integrity, is hated by powerful people who try to slander and frame him on alleged charges of corruption, misuse of authority, rape, and abuse of defendants. Even Hell itself participates in this attack, as the devil Barlocco is entrusted with entering the judge’s body to corrupt him. There are many references to recent events, not the least of which were the attempts on the part of some right-wing interests to deny legal status to the actions many judges were undertaking against fraudulent activities and financial crimes involving toplevel politicians.
In 1997 Fo received the Nobel Prize in Literature, which caused an uproar in some intellectual circles in Italy. Aside from the controversial nature of many of his plays, opponents felt that his work was mere clowning and did not have the literary merit to deserve the prize. Fo, delighted by the uproar, turned his Nobel lecture into another performance. With the money from the prize, Fo and Rame founded “II Nobel per i disabili” (The Nobel for the Disabled), an organization dedicated to assisting the handicapped.
In 1998 Fo presented Marino libero! Marino è innocente! (Free Marino! Marino Is Innocent!), another work on justice, dealing with one of the most controversial political trials of Italian history. The matter of this case can be traced back to the Piazza Fontana slaughter and the subsequent deaths of the anarchist Pinelli and of Luigi Calabresi, the police commissioner who had questioned him. In 1988 Leonardo Marino confessed his involvement in the commissioner’s assassination and accused Adriano Sofri, former leader of the extreme-left movement Lotta Continua (Continuous Struggle) and a significant political figure in the 1960s and 1970s, as the instigator of the murder. Marino escaped prison for his cooperation, and on the basis of Marino’s unreliable testimony, Sofri was sentenced to a twenty-two-year term, sparking large protests.
Fo’s next play, Lu Santo Jullàre Françesco (Francis the Saint Jester), was staged at the Spoleto Festival in 1999. The protagonist is St. Francis of Assisi, whom Fo regards as the first jester ever known, even if God’s jester. Fo follows the well-known biography of the most revered Italian saint, according to the canonical account of Bonaventura da Bognorregio, but sometimes diverges from it to exploit other sources and documents, such as the account of his preaching in Bologna in 1222, when the city was at war with Imola. Fo presents a St. Francis who surprises his audience, because he is expected to preach using the dialect of Umbria (his home region) and to invoke the restoration of peace, whereas he speaks in Neapolitan dialect and praises war. Fo identifies St. Francis as the true prototype of the jester, a man capable of turning his body into word, deeply knowledgeable as to the power of gesture and pantomime. Without betraying his political beliefs and social engagement, Fo has produced a text marked by a less aggressive polemical attitude, as if seen from a more distant and somewhat fabulous perspective.
The themes preferred by Dario Fo, especially in later years, have been those that, above all, address the issues of injustice and discrimination in the world without ever neglecting the formal aspect of theater practice. In fact, he has renewed the theater as a playwright, actor, and producer. More important, he has transformed the “comic stage” from a place of pure entertainment to one of debate and reflection.
Dario Fo parla di Dario Fo, edited by Erminia Artese (Cosenza: Lerici, 1977);
Dario Fo and Franca Rome: ‘Theatre Workshops at Riverside Studios, London, edited by Ed Emery (London: Red Notes, 1983);
Dario Fo, Dialogo provocatoria sul comico, il tragico, la follia e la ragione con Luigi Allegri (Rome: Laterza, 1990).
Alberto Abbruzzese, “Dario Fo comico, tragico e prosaico,” Rinascita, 13 (26 March 1976): 36–37;
Serena Anderlini, “Franca Rame: Her Life and Works,” Theater [Yale] (Winter 1985): 32–39;
Franca Angelini, Il teatro del Novecento da Pirandello a Fo (Bari: Laterza, 1976);
Antonio Attisani, Teatro come differenza (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1978);
Alessandro Avanzo, “Lo sghignazzo di Fo,” Sipario, 407 (December 1981): 20–22;
Tom Behan, Dario Fo: Revolutionary Theatre (London: Pluto, 2000);
R. Bianchi, “La teatralizzazione permanente: Happening proletario e rituale della militanza nel teatro politico di Dario Fo,” Biblioteca Teatrale, 21–22 (1978): 160–180;
Lanfranco Binni, Attento a te...! Ii teatro politico di Dario Fo (Verona: Bertani, 1975);
Binni, Dario Fo (Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1977);
Carlo Brusati, Dario Fo, politica, provocazione, arte (Milan: Il Quaderno del Sale, 1977);
Marina Cappa and Roberto Nepoti, Dario Fo (Rome: Gremese, 1982);
Ettore Capriolo, “Dario Fo e il nuovo impegno,” Sipario, 273 (January 1969): 43–44;
Jean Chesnaux, II teatro politico di Dario Fo: La censura fallita (Milan: Mazzotta, 1977);
Elena De Pasquale, II segreto del giullare: La dimensione testuale nel teatro di Dario Fo (Naples: Liguori, 1999);
Marco De Poli, “Dario Fo,” Belfagor, 1 (January 1976): 83–91;
Joseph Farrell, Dario Fo and Franca Rame: Harlequins of the Revolution (London: Methuen, 2001);
Farrell and Antonio Scuder, eds., Dario Fo: Stage, Text, and Tradition (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000);
Giorgio Grossi, “Nuova scena: II teatro della cultura,” Sipario, 286 (February 1970): 19;
David Hirst, Dario Fo and Franca Rame (London: Macmillan, 1989);
Bent Holm, Il mondo rovesciato: Dario Fo e la fantasia popolare (Stockolm: Drama, 1980);
Ron Jenkins, Subversive Laughter (New York: Free Press, 1994);
Gabriella Matrisciano, Il teatro di Dario Fo (Messina: EDAS, 1994);
Roberto Mazzucco, “II teatro di Fo: Italianità e libertà,” Il ponte, 12 (December 1967): 1612–1619;
Claudio Meldolesi, Su un comico in rivolta: Dario Fo il bufalo il bambino (Rome: Bulzoni, 1978);
Toni Mitchell, Dario Fo: People’s Court Jester (London: Methuen, 1999);
Italo Moscati, ‘La libertà di consenso,” Sipario, 284 (December 1969): 12–15;
Moscati, “Teatro e politica,” Sipario, 274 (February 1969): 8–10;
Marisa Pizza, II gesto e la parola: Poetica, drammaturgia e storia dei monologhi di Dario Fo (Rome: Bulzoni, 1996);
Alessandra Pozzo, Grr . . . grammelot: Parlare senza parole. Dai primi balbettii al grammelot di Dario Fo (Bologna: Clueb, 1998);
Paolo Puppa, Il teatro di Dario Fo: Dalla scena alia piazza (Venice: Marsilio, 1978);
Franco Quadri, Il teatro del regime (Milan: Mazzotta, 1976);
Quadri, La politica, del regista (Milan: Edizioni II For michiere, 1980);
Tito Saffioti, I giullari in Italia (Milan: Xenia, 1990);
Jean-Claude Schmitt, Il gesto del Medioevo (Rome-Bari: Laterza, 1990);
O. Sciotto and D. De Angelis, Il teatro di Dario Fo e Franca Rame: Rappresentazioni all’estero dal 1960 al 1991 (Milan: C.T.F.R., 1992);
Antonio Scuderi, Dario Fo and Popular Performances (New York: Legas, 1998);
Michele L. Straniero, Giullari & Fo (Rome: Lato Side, 1978);
Chiara Valentini, La storia di Dario Fo (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1977);
Franco Vegliani, “Dario Fo teatralmente compromesso,” Sipario, 220–221 (August-September 1964): 39;
Alessandra Venezia, Dalla svampita alla rapita: L’evoluzione dei personaggi femminili nel teatro di Dario Fo (Milan: UMI, 1990);
Claudio Vicentini, La teoria del teatro politico (Florence: Sansoni, 1981).
The main source for manuscripts, playbills, photographs, newspaper articles, letters, and other documents pertaining to Dario Fo’s career is the Archiuo Franca Rame Dario Fo, <http://www.archivio.francarame.it/home.html>.