Home | VIP | Dario Fo (1926 - )

Dario Fo (1926 - )

Font size: Decrease font Enlarge font

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.





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, theatres. 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. 


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. In January 2002 Fo said in a speech, 'Mussolini's Ghost In These Times', 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. We Can´t Pay? We Won't Pay! was about citizens refusing to pay taxes to a corrupt government. Mistero Buffo (Comic Mystery) was based 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. 


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)

Subscribe to comments feed Comments (0 posted)

total: | displaying:

Post your comment

  • Bold
  • Italic
  • Underline
  • Quote

Please enter the code you see in the image:

  • email Email to a friend
  • print Print version
  • Plain text Plain text
Rate this article
Share this article