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Dario Fo (1926-)

 

Prolific Italian playwright, actor and mime artist, manager-director, known for his satirical plays. Fo was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1997. In his works Fo has combined oral expression from the popular performance tradition with radical thought. He has used laughter as a weapon against the conservative establishment of the Italy's political scene, and the social and international evils of the Cold War era.

"Our task as intellectuals, as persons who mount the pulpit or the stage, and who, most importantly, address to young people, our task is not just to teach them method, like how to use the arms, how to control breathing, how to use the stomach, the voice, the falsetto, the contracampo. It's not enough to teach a technique or a style: we have to show them what is happening around us. They have to be able to tell their own story. A theatre, a literature, an artistic expression that does not speak for its own time has no relevance." (from Nobel Lecture, 1997)

Dario Fo was born in San Giano, a small town near the northern Italian city of Milan. His father was a railroad worker and was also a part-time actor. His mother came from a peasant background. During World War II Fo helped his father, who was a member of the resistance against German forces in Italy and took escaped Allied soldiers across the border to Switzerland. For a time, Fo served reluctantly also in the army, being afraid that he would be sent with the troops to Germany.

After the war, Fo studied at an art school and planned to become an architect. Fo´s career as a dramatist and actor started in small cabarets. As an accomplished artist he designed his own sets. Later he worked at the Italian national radio and television networks. Most of Fo's early works were one-act farces. He first attracted the attention of the critics with Il dito nell' occhio (1953), a loosely structured harlequinade in which he combined the Marxist philosophy with gags, songs, and other theatrical devices reminiscent of the commedia dell'arte, popular stage shows, and 19th-century farce. Fo then spent a brief time as a film actor and set designer before returning to writing for the theatre.

In 1959 Fo founded with his wife, the actor Franca Rame, the Compagnia Dario Fo-Franca Rame, which produced number of popular satirical dramas, including Archangels Don´t Play Pinnball, depicting adventures of a petty criminal who dreams he has suffered from a loss of identity, and He Had Two Pistols with White and Black Eyes. In these plays Fo adopted the view that art is an instrument of social and political change. La Signorina è da buttare (1967) made topical comments on Vietnam, Lee Harvey Oswald, and the Kennedy assassination. Often he has also attacked the Catholic church. Fo was accused of disrespect toward a foreign head of state (Lyndon B. Johnson) and was for a long time denied a visa for entry to the United States.

The most original work from the 1960s, Mistero buffo (1969), consists of a number of monologues taken from medieval religious works, which are mixed with contemporary issues. The Vatican described his performance as "the most blasphemous show in the history of televison" when it was presented on Italian television in 1977. The title "Mistero buffo" ('comical mystery') was borrowed from Mayakovsky's Mystery-Bouffle, a satire written in 1918.

Ahiiii. Beat yourselves. Beat your selves. Ahiiiiah!
And you rulers, you usurers,
You will suffer misfortune,
For you have spat in the face of Christ,
Enriching yourselves with ill-gotten gains. Beat yourselves!
You who have squeezed, as a person would crush grapes,
The money out of those who sweat and toil.
Ahiiii. Beat yourselves. Beat yourselves. Ahiiiiah!

(from Mistero Buffo)

The Italian government censored Fo's works in the early period of his career. He has also been jailed, beaten up, and threatened with assassination. By performing comic sketches in television, Fo and Franca Rame became famous with the Italian public. In 1962 Fo presented a satirical television show which was closed down after just seven weeks on air. He gained international recognition in 1960s with Archangels Don't Play Pinball, which was performed in Zagreb in Yugoslavia. In 1968 Dario Fo and Franca Rame founded the acting group Nuova Scena, which had ties to the Italian Communist Party. However, his satirical views aroused much criticism from the Communist Press as earlier from the Catholic Church. Fo dissociated himself from Communist politics, attacking openly the Party's bureaucracy and failures on ideological work.

Speaking of his collaboration with Frana Rame he once said: "While studying architecture in Milan, I learned more from master masons than from books, and Rame has an innate knowledge of theater and a precision akin to that of a master craftman. She has a keen sense of timing and rhythm. She can spot banality a mile away and at first reading of a piece she can detect those literary qualities that have no place in theater." In 1970 Fo started their third major theatre group, Colletivo Teatrale La Comune. He performed in hurriedly constructed and staged plays, which were produced in response to specific international, national, or local issues, and used much improvisation and revisions. Among these were Guerra di popolo in Cile (1973), about the popular revolt in Chile, and Fedayn (1971), about the Palestinian question. The Open Couple (1983) looked at the place of women in society, and Zitti! Stiamo Precipitanto (1990) was about AIDS.

From the 1970s Fo has worked mainly at the Palazzina Liberty in Milano. In 1978 Fo directed the opera La storia di un soldato, an adaptation of the chamber opera by Igor Stravinsky. The opera, which libretto Fo rewrote thoroughly, gained a huge success. Later Fo has directed Rossini's operas. For the Finnish National Opera he directed A Journey to Rheims, its opening night was in January 2003. Fo used topical allusions, joking about the European Union. One character bore a strong resemblance to the Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi. Fo said in a speech, 'Mussolini's Ghost In These Times' (January 2002) that "Mussolini himself did not have the system of political privilege that Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's Prime Minister, has."

Among Dario Fo's most famous works is Accidental Death of an Anarchist, about the police murder of a political activist, in which the Maniac reveals: "So? Who cares? The important thing is to have a good scandal... Nolimus aut velimus! So that the Italian nation can march alongside the Americans and the English, and become a modern and social-democratic society, so that finally we can say: 'It's true – we're in the shit right up to our necks, and that's precisely the reason why we walk with our heads held high!'" Although the work satirized the forces of law and order it was performed in Argentina, Chile, South Africa, Ceausescu's Romania and elsewhere. The Broadway production was a fiasco.

We Can´t Pay? We Won't Pay! was about citizens refusing to pay taxes to a corrupt government. Mistero Buffo (Comic Mystery) drew on popular religious works of the Middle Ages but is played with topical themes and changed with each audience. Fo's theatrical pieces often depend upon improvisation and employ current news. Original texts are constantly being modified and rewritten, modifications are based on audience reaction.

In his book Manuale Minimo dell'Attore (1987) Fo has explored the history's jesters, minstrels, and political clowns, whom he believes have changed the course of history. The book was not written at a desk but it was recorded from talks, workshops, lectures and conference pieces and then edited by Franca Rame. "In my view, what we have around us is a dead theatre for dead people. Supply alternates with demand, and every culture has the theatre it deserves. In Italy, no one is more dead than the authors, incapable of producing anything other than literary texts, with grand speeches full of elaborately patterned phrases chasing and devouring each other." (from The Tricks of the Trade by Dario Fo, 1987) 

For further reading: Dario Fo and Franca Rame: Theatre Workshops at Riverside Studios, London (1983); Dario Fo: People's Court Jester by Tony Mitchell (1984); File on Fo by T. Mitchell (1989); Dario Fo and Franca Rame by D. Hirst (1989); The Commedia Dell'Arte from the Renaissance to Dario Fo, ed. by Christopher Cairns (1989); Contemporary World Writers, ed. by Tracy Chevalier (1993); Dario Fo and Popular Performance by Antonio Scuderi (1998); Dario Fo: Revolutionary Theatre by Tom Behan (1999); Dario Fo: Stage, Text, and Tradition, ed. by Joseph Farrell, Antonio Scuderi (2000); Dario Fo's Use of Art for the Stage by Christopher Cairns (2000); Dario Fo by Tony Mitchell (2000); Dario Fo & Franca Rame: Artful Laughter by Ron Jenkins (2001); Staging Dario Fo And Franca Rame: Anglo-american Approaches to Political Theatre by Stefania Taviano (2005)

Selected works:

  • Poer nano ed altre storie, from 1951 (radio plays, stage version 1952, as Poer nano in 1976)
  • Il dito nell'occhio, 1953 (published in Teatro d'oggi, 1954)
  • Sani da legare, 1954 (published in Sipario, 1955)
  • Monetine da 5 lire, 1956 (television play)
  • Lo svitato, 1956 (screenplay)
  • Ladri, manichini e donne nude, 1957 (4 short plays; L'uomo nudo e l'uomo in frak, Le donne si spogliano e i cadaveri si spediscono, Gli imbianchini non hanno ricordi, Non tutti i ladri vengono per nuocere) - One Was Nude and One wore Tails (tr. Ed Emery, 1985, prod. 1986); Women Undressed, Bodies Ready to Be Dispatched (prod. 1986); Not All Burglars Have Bad Intentions (tr. 1969) / The Virtuos Burglars (in Plays One, 1992) - Alaston mies ja mies frakissa (suom. Esko Elstelä, 1963); Maalareilla ei ole muistoja (suom. Jorma Kapari, 1968); Kaikki vorot eivät tule varkaisiin (suom. Esko Elstelä)
  • Comico finale, 1958 (4 short plays) - Corpse for Sale (tr. 1986)
  • La Marcolfa, 1958 - Anteeksiantamatonta huolimattomuutta (suom. Jorma Kapari, 1964)
  • Quando sarai povero sarai re, 1958 - Köyhdyttyäsi olet kuningas (suom. Esko Elstelä, 1964)
  • Un morto da vendere, 1958 - Ruumis myytävänä (suom. Esko Elstelä, 1964)
  • Chi l'ha visto?, 1959 (television play)
  • Gli archangeli giocano a flipper, 1959 - Archangels Don´t Play Pinnball (tr. R.C. McAvory and A.-M. Giusgni, 1987; in We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! And Other Works: The Collected Plays of Dario Fo, tr. Ron Jenkins, 2000) - Arkkienkelit eivät vedä höplästä (suom. Esko Elstelä, 1963)
  • Aveva due pistole con gli occhi bianci e neri, 1960 - Two Pistols (tr. 1985) - Kaksi pistoolia mustavalkosilmää (suom. Jorma Kapari, Esko Elstelä, 1964)
  • Chi ruba un piede è fortunato in amore, 1961 - He Who Steals a Foot is Lucky in Love (tr. 1983) - Jalkavaras on lemmen suosikki (suom. Pirkko Peltonen)
  • Teatro comico, 1962 (includes 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)
  • Isabrella, tre caravelle e un cacciabelle, 1963
  • Settimo: ruba un po' meno, 1964 - Seventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Steal a Bit (tr. 1973) - Seitsemäs käsky: varasta vähemmän (suom. Esko Elstelä, 1972)
  • La colpa e sempre del diavolo, 1965
  • Le commedie I-IX, 1966-1991
  • Ci ragiono e canto, 1966
  • La signora è da butare, 1967 - Rouva joutaa pellolle (suom. Esko Elstelä, 1968)
  • Grande pamtomina con bandieri e pupazzi piccolo e medi, 1968
  • Misteri Buffo, 1969 - Mistero Buffo: Comic Mystery (contains The Flagellants' Laude, The Slaughter of the Innocents, The Morality Play of the Blind Man & the Cripple, The Marriage at Cana, The Birth of the Jongleur, The Birth of the Villeyn, The Resurrection of Lazarus, Boniface VIII, tr. Ed Emery, 1988) - Mysteerio Buffo (sis.: Viatonten lasten surma, Sokea ja rampa, Kaanaan häät, Ilveilijän synty, Moukan synty, Lasaruksen ylösnousemus, Bonifatius VIII, Ilveilijän kuolema, Maria saa tietää poikansa tuomiosta, Ilveilijä ristin juurella, Maria ristin juurella, suom. Aira Buffa, 1982, 1986)
  • Legami pure che tanto io spacco tutto lo stesso, 1969 - The Boss's Funeral (tr. 1984)
  • Il funerale del padrone, 1969 - Työnantajan hautajaiset (suom. Esko Elstelä, 1974)
  • L'operaio conosce 300 parole il padrone 1000 per queato lui e il padrone, 1969 - The Worker Knows 300 Words, the Boss 1000, That's Why He's the Boss (tr. 1983)
  • Morte accidentale di un anarchico, 1970 - Accidental Death of an Anarchist (tr. Gillian Hanna, 1979) / Accicental Death of an Anarchist (tr. Alan Cummings and Tim Supple, 1991) - Erään anarkistin tapaturmainen kuolema (suom. Esko Elstelä, 1980, rev. ed. 1987)
  • Vorrei morire anche stasera se dovessi pensare che non è servito a niente, 1970
  • Compagni senza censura, 1970-1972
  • Morte e resurrezione di un pupazzo, 1971
  • Fedayn, 1971
  • Tutti uniti! Tutti insieme!, 1971
  • Morte e resurrezione di un pupazzo, 1972
  • Pum pum, Chi è? La polizia!, 1972 - Knock, Knock - Who´s There? The Police!
  • Ordine! Per Dio.000.000.000, 1972
  • Guerra di popolo in Cile, 1973
  • Basta con i fascisti, 1973
  • The Bawd, 1973
  • No si paga! No si paga!, 1974 - We Can´t Pay? We Won´t Pay! (tr. 1978) / Can't Pay? Won't Pay! (tr. by Lino Petile, 1978; Gillian Harris, 1980) / We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! (tr. by R.G. Davis, 1984; in We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! And Other Works: The Collected Plays of Dario Fo, tr. Ron Jenkins, 2000) / Don't Pay! Don't Pay! (tr. 1985) - Ei makseta! Ei makseta! (suom. Liisa Ryömä, 1978)
  • Ballate e canzoni, 1974
  • Porta e belle, 1974
  • Canzoni e ballate, 1974
  • Il caso Marini, 1974
  • Il Fanfani rapito, 1975
  • La guillarata, 1975
  • La marijuana della mamma è la piu bella, 1976 - Äidin ruoho on parasta (suom. Aira Buffa, 1982)
  • Le commedie di Dario Fo, 1977 (5 vols.)
  • Il teatro politico di Dario Fo, 1977
  • Parliamo di donne, 1977 (television play)
  • Il teatro di Dario Fo, 1977 (television play, with Franca Rame)
  • Tutta casa, letto e chiesa, 1978 (with Franca Rame) - Female Parts: One Woman Plays (tr. Margaret Kunzle and Stuart Hood, 1981, includes Waking Up, A Woman Alone, The Same Old Story) / The Fourth Wall (prod. 1983) / The Same Old Story, and Medea (prod. 1984) / part as Adult Orgasm Escapes from the Zoo (tr. 1985) / part published in All Home Bed and Church / A Woman Alone and Other Plays (contains Waking Up, A Woman Alone, The Same Old Story, Medea, ed. by Stuart Hood, 1991) - Donna-monologit, Tavallista elämää, Herääminen, Kaikilla Meillä on sama tarina, Medea, Minä, Ulrike, huudan, Kotiintulo, Raiskaus, Äiti, Tapahtui huomenna (suom. Aira Buffa, 1983, 1984)
  • La storia di un soldato, 1978 (adaptation of the chamber opera by Igor Stravinsky)
  • Storia della tigre et altre storie, 1978 - The Tale of a Tiger (tr. Ed Emery, 1984) - Tiikeritarina (suom. Liisa Ryömä, 1986)
  • Dio li fa e poi li accoppa, 1979 - Luojanluomat ovat vertansa vailla (suom. Aira Buffa, 1985)
  • Buona sera, 1979-80 (with Franca Rame, television play)
  • Betty, 1980
  • Clacson, trombette e pernacchi, 1981 - About Face (tr. in New York Theater by Dale McAdoo and Charles Mann, 1983; in We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! And Other Works: The Collected Plays of Dario Fo, tr. Ron Jenkins, 2000) / Trumpets and Raspberries (tr. R.C. McAvory and A.-M. Giusgni, 1984) - Kaappaus, kaappaus (suom. Aira Buffa, 1982)
  • Dedalo e Icaro, 1980 - Daidalos ja Ikaros (suom. Liisa Ryömä, 1986)
  • La professione della Signora Warren, 1981 (television play)
  • L'opera dello sghignazzo, 1981 (with Franca Rame, adaptation of The Beggar's Opera by John Gay)
  • Fabulazzo osceno, 1982 (with Franca Rame, based on Mistero buffo and Storia della tigre) - Obscene Fables (tr. 1986
  • Parpaja topola, 1982 - Perhoshiiruli (suom. Aira Buffa, 1987)
  • Lucio e asino, 1982 - Aasin tarina (suom. Aira Buffa, 1988)
  • Una madre, 1982 - A Mother (tr. Ed Emery, 1984)
  • Fabulazzo osceno, 1982 (with Franca Rame) - Obscene Fables (tr. 1986)
  • Coppio aperta, quasi spalancata, 1983 - The Open Couple (tr. Stuart Hood, 1985) - Avoin liitto, lähes levällään (suom. Aira Buffa, 1984)
  • Storia vera di Piero d'Angera, 1984
  • Quasi per caso una donna: Elisabetta, 1984 - Elizabeth: Almost by Chance a Woman (tr. Gillian Harris, 1987; in We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! And Other Works: The Collected Plays of Dario Fo, tr. Ron Jenkins, 2000) - Melkein sattumalta nainen: Elisabeth (suom. Aira Buffa, 1985)
  • The History of Masks, 1984
  • Diario di Eva, 1984 - Eva's Diary (tr. 1985)
  • Hellequin, Harlekin, Arlechino, 1985
  • The Tricks of the Trade, 1985 (television play)
  • Una giornata qualunque, 1986 - An Ordinary Day (tr. Joseph Farrell, 1990) - Ihan tavallinen päivä (suom. Aira Buffa, 1984
  • Il ratto della Francesca, 1986 - Abducting Diana (tr. Rupert Lowe, 1994) - Francescan ryöstö (suom. Aira Buffa, 1988)
  • Manuale Minimo dell'Attore, 1987 - The Tricks of the Trade (tr. J. Farrell, 1991)
  • La parte del Leone, 1987
  • Transmissione forzata, 1988 (television play)
  • Lettera dalla Cina, 1989
  • Il papa e la strega, 1989 - The Pope and the Witch (tr. Ed Emery, 1992)
  • 25 monologhi per una donna, 1989 (with Franca Rame)
  • Una lepre con la faccia da bambina, 1989 (with Franca Rame, television play)
  • Parti femminili, 1989 (television play)
  • Promessi sposi, 1989 (television play)
  • Zitti! Stiamo Precipitando, 1990
  • Dialogo provocatorio sul comico, il tragico, la follia e la ragione, 1990 (with Luigi Allegri) - Dialogue on the Comic, the Tragic, Folly and Reason (tr. 1993)
  • Coppia aperta, 1990 (with Franca Rame, television play)
  • Settimo ruba un po' meno, 1991
  • Mistero Buffo, 1991 (television play)
  • A Woman Alone and Other Plays, 1991 (ed. Stuart Hood)
  • Parliamo di donne: L'eroina - grassa è bello, 1991 (with Franca Rame)
  • Dario Fo Plays: 1, 1992 (ed. Stuart Hood, includes Bistero Buffo, Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Trumpets and Raspberries, The Vituous Burglars, One Was Nude and and Wore Tails)
  • Johan Padan a la scoperta de le Americhe, 1992 - Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas (tr. Ron Jenkins, 2001) - Americako eli Johan Padovalainen Amerikan löysi (suom. Daniel Katz ja Liisa Ryömä, 2003)
  • Settimo: ruba un po' meno!, n. 2, 1992 (with Franca Rame)
  • Mamma! I sanculotti!, 1993
  • Dario Fo Plays: 2, 1994 (ed. Stuart Hood, includes Can't Pay? Won't Pay! Elizabeth, with Franca Rame: The Open Couple, An Ordinary Day)
  • Sesso? Grazie, tanto per gradire!, 1994 (with Franca Rame, Jacopo Fo)
  • Dario Fo recita Ruzzante, 1995
  • Bibbia dei villani, 1996 - The Peasants Bible; and, The Story of the Tiger (translated by Ron Jenkins, 2004)
  • Il diavolo con le zinne, 19967 (with Franca Rame)
  • Marino libero! Marino innocente!, 1998
  • Bava Beccaris, fame e rabbia: cento anni fa a Milano, 1998
  • Lu santo jullare Françesco, 1999
  • Il porco, 2000
  • We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! And Other Works: The Collected Plays of Dario Fo, Volume One, 2000 (tr. Ron Jenkins)
  • Il grande bugiardo, 2001
  • La Gazzetta, 2001 (additional music by Philip Gossett, based on Gioachino Rossini's opera)
  • Il paese dei Mezaràt, 2002 - My First Seven Years (Plus a Few More) A Memoir (translated by Joseph Farrell, 2006) - Ensimmäiset seitsemän vuottani ja muutama niiden lisäksi (suom. Leena Taavitsainen-Petäjä, 2004)
  • Da Tangentopoli all'irresistibile ascesa di Ubu-Bas, 2002
  • Il viaggio a Reims, 2003 (based on Gioacchino Rossini's opera)
  • Ubu-Bas va alla guerra, 2003
  • L'anomalo bicefalo, 2003
  • Mistero Buffo: The Collected Plays of Dario Fo, Volume 2, 2005 (tr. Ron Jenkins)
  • Caravaggio al tempo di Caravaggio, 2005 (edited by Franca Rame)
  • Bello figliolo che tu se’ Raffaello, 2006 (edited by Franca Rame)
  • Il Mantegna impossibile, 2006 (edited by Franca Rame)
  • L’amore e lo sghignazzo, 2007 (edited by Franca Rame)
  • Gesù e le donne, 2007 (edited by Franca Rame, Anna Dotti)
  • Il mondo secondo Fo, 2007 (with Giuseppina Manin)
  • Tegno nelle mane occhi e orecchi: Michelagniolo, 2007 (edited by Franca Rame)
  • L’apocalisse rimandata, ovvero, Benvenuta catastrofe!, 2008 (edited by Franca Rame and Gessica Di Giacomo)
  • Giotto o non Giotto, 2009 (edited by Franca Rame)
  • Sant’Ambrogio e l’invenzione di Milano, 2009 (edited by Franca Rame and Giselda Palombi
  • La Bibbia dei villani, 2010 (edited by Franca Rame)
  • Correggio che dipingeva appeso in cielo, 2010 (edited by Franca Rame)
  • L’osceno è sacro: la scienza dello scurrile poetico, 2010 (ed. by Franca Rame)
  • Il Boccaccio riveduto e scorretto, 2011 (edited by Franca Rame, Roberto Shaw, translated by Franca Rame and Giselda Palombi)
  • Dario Fo: la pittura di un narratore, 2011 (ed. by Marco Biscione, Nicoletta Ossanna Cavadini)


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