Leftist Italian playwright and actor, he was born in Northern Italy, his father a railway worker and socialist. Due to his uniquely placed position near Switzerland, Dario's father helped smuggle anti-fascists out of fascist-controlled Italy, with Dario helping him many times. In 1940 he went to Milan to study architecture, but his study was cut short by the war, and late in the war he was forced to join the fascist army, from which he escaped, spending the rest of the war in hiding.
Continuing his architectural studies in Milan after the war, Fo started to become involved in theater. In 1951, Fo met Franca, and working together often, they got married three years later.
Leftist Italian actress, playwright, and radical feminist, she was born into a theatrical family, her father and her mother both being actors. Started acting when she was young, in comedies staged by family members, playing the child roles. In her collaboration with Fo, she was normally the leading actress and administrator, while Fo was the director and writer. She also wrote several of her own plays, as well as writing several plays jointly with Fo.
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In the 1950's Fo wrote several radio plays and television shows, on which Rame worked as well, which although political were mild in comparison with what Fo would later go on to write. In the early 1960's, after being effectively banned from state television for their radical work, their plays began to take a more radical stance. During this period they started working closely with the Italian Communist Party. Producing radical plays on issues concerning workers, they traveled all over Italy performing plays in workers' clubs and other popular venues, with discussions and debates after the plays.
Frustrated with the increasing reformism of the Communist Party, and disillusioned with the Soviet Union due in part to its invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, they broke with the Communist Party in 1970. Continuing to produce radical plays, they became Maoists for a short period in the 1970s, but before the end of the decade they gave up Maoism, and Fo even wrote a short play about why in 1978 (The Story of the Tiger), and they subsequently progressed to what I would call "ex-communist" mild-leftist positions.
Always running into trouble for their plays, they faced violence and intimidation from both fascists, the police, the government, and the Vatican. With many performances of their plays throughout the years being canceled, censored, or disrupted by the thuggish acts of fascists, they faced the most repression from the right during the volatile "years of lead," i.e. in the late 1960s and 1970s. Kicked out of their apartment once by a Zionist landlord after performing a pro-Palestinian play featuring real members of the leftist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, police raids were not infrequent, nor were death threats. In by far the worst act, in 1973 a fascist group kidnapped Franca Rame, and proceeded to torture and rape her, which was reportedly greeted by celebrations among the local police, so hated were they by the right. A very strong woman, Franca returned to the stage after two months, condemning the fascists violently.
Their plays are political and subversive, especially those written before the 1980s, and deal with very serious subjects, yet all are comedies and often violently satirical. Fo considered himself in line with the jesters of medieval times who used comedy as a weapon to agitate against the rich, and in Fo's opinion political theater is much more effective when it is delivered with humor. Fo and Rame were open partisans of the working class, and their plays are unique in that they focus most of their attention on normal, working class characters and not bourgeois characters.
Isabella, Three Sailing Ships, and a Con Man (1963): 85 pages. Exposes and satirizes Columbus and Queen Isabella for their hypocrisy and brutality, their nonchalance in employing genocide and violent religious oppression in the pursuit of wealth.
Mistero Buffo (1969): 116 pages. A satire of official catholicism, this play was swiftly condemned by the Catholic Church. It makes an important point that many are not aware of: that many "saints" in their time were opposed to the Church and its wealth and connections with the upper classes, and worked with and for the downtrodden. Of course nowadays the Catholic Church portrays them as innocuous, and thus manufactures history in its interests. This play is also shows Fo's interest in and affinity with medieval jesters who used their humor to attack the rich and powerful.
The Accidental Death of an Anarchist (1970): 88 pages. Based on a true story: Giuseppe Pinelli, or 'the anarchist' was a railway worker and anarchist who was framed by the police for a bombing (by right-wing fascists) of a Milan bank in 1969. After several days in police custody, and during an interrogation, Pinelli "fell" from the fourth floor of the Milan police station in which he was being interrogated. Of course Pinelli was really the victim of police brutality as many other "jumping" victims have been over the years. Written in response to this incident, it was performed many times (outside formal theaters) to inform people of what happened as well as to agitate against the repressive security apparatus and it's practice of torture, framing of leftists, and murder.
Can't Pay, Won't Pay! (1974): 81 pages. In this play Fo portrays a specific type of "strike" which could be referred to as a "price strike." In a "price strike" customers, driven to extremes by the high price of basic foods, either pay what price they think is fair or else don't pay at all. This type of strike obviously demonstrates a very high level of class consciousness on the part of the strikers, and is every bit as justified as a labor strike, and even more radical an act (from the play: "It's better than a strike. Instead of the workers losing out, this time the bosses lose out"). Another topic brought up in the play is the question of self-managed factories, and more generally the reactionary nature of many labor unions, which regularly sell out workers. The play also shows how circumstances can push even the more reformist-minded workers to become radical.
The Story of the Tiger (1978): 17 pages. This is a short narrative play which satirizes stalinists, maoists, and others who have no faith whatsoever in normal people. Condemning those who want to lord over and control the people, as rulers have always done in the past, but this time with a "progressive" face. Fo also makes the point that the strength of the people is unbeatable and can never fail if they are united for a common goal, and that the people should never give up their power, or else face they will inevitably face oppression. The tiger in the story symbolizes the strength of the people. Dario Fo wrote this play after he became disillusioned with maoism, after a short period of being attracted to it.
The Peasants Bible (1978): 46 pages. A progressive, satirical, every-man's take on a few selected biblical stories.
Trumpets and Raspberries (1981): 98 pages. The main character of the play is Angelli, head of Fiat for almost 40 years and well-hated reactionary. Partly a comedy of mistaken identity, it also deals with many then current political themes, especially the Red Brigades and the Aldo Moro kidnapping. Fo makes the point that under capitalism most politicians are simply lackeys, acting in the government however the interests of the capitalists demand. Further, politicians, even when the seem very powerful, are expendable and have little real power, and thus are often scape-goated and deposed, for under capitalism the real power lies with those who own the means of production, i.e. capitalists. These are the real controllers of the government and country, no matter what figures occupy the presidency or prime-ministership.
The Open Couple (1983): 33 pages. Written by Franca Rame with Fo, it was originally preformed with Fo playing the "Man" and Rame the "Woman." This play does not have any sympathy for the institution of marriage, yet neither has it any for "open marriages" or "free love." Rather it shows that both the former and the latter are just different ways of oppressing women and that the only logical and just relationship between a woman and a man would have to be one where they are sexual exclusive to one another, share EQUALLY all responsibilities, such as cleaning, cooking, child care, generating of income, etc, treat each other with respect and love.
One Was Nude and One Wore Tails (1985): 32 pages. A satirical take on the role that clothes play in a capitalist, classist society. It makes the point that the respect and deference that is shown to people who simply wear certain types of clothes is an absurd and illogical situation, just another reason why capitalism needs to be destroyed. Fo also points out the vast difference in attitude that the police will adopt in regard to someone dressed like a worker, and someone who has on a suit, even if it is a worker in a suit or a rich man in workers' clothes! So clothes are correctly shown to be socially significant items which are used to help classify people, and keep people in their places, and for some (i.e. the rich), as a significant protection.
The Pope and the Witch (1989): 111 pages. A satire directed against the pope and the Vatican as a whole. Fo portrays the pope as an insane, dogmatic idiot, and consistently criticizes the Vatican's positions. Among the positions criticized: birth control and the obscene wealth that the Vatican has accumulated over the hundreds of years of it's existence. In the process of mocking and criticizing the pope, Fo puts forward a progressive view of drugs by pointing out that prohibition only hurts the victims and works towards making it harder for them to function (i.e. price increased, quality decreased), and denies them help to quit. It also helps to spread blood-transmitted diseases like AIDS if the drug being used is injected intravenously with a needle (i.e clean needles are not available, or very hard to come by).
Orgasmo Adulto Escapes from the Zoo (1991): 72 pages. This is a collection of eight small plays written by Franca Rame and Fo. These short plays are all independent of each other, but they were meant to be performed consecutively as part of one performance, with a general introduction at the beginning. They all deal with the serious problems and sexism facing women. As always Rame and Fo manage to deal with delicate and important issues using comedy which never takes away from the seriousness of the problems discussed. I will give a few brief notes about each play:
A Woman Alone: this play deals with the unhappiness and oppression which many housewives suffer under in the home in addition to their oppression in society as a whole. It also looks at the unfortunate fact that many women reach old age, have children, and yet still never experience love or even know first hand what an orgasm is.
The Freak Mommy: this play looks at how men, both husband and son alike, entrap and keep women confined to playing the role of docile, domestic mother, whose only allowable strong passion is for the welfare of her children.
Waking Up: this play deals with the incredibly heavy burden that working class women have to put up with. Not only do they work full-time in a factory, office, etc, but they are most often expected to do everything that a traditional housewife would do: cook, clean, take care of the children, etc, while the man relaxes from a hard day of working the same hours his wife did.
We All Have the Same Story: this play deals with the fact that many so-called progressive men are just as sexist as other men, and are just as interested in using a woman's body for their own pleasure, and are just as disdainful of what that woman wants. Also, through a story the woman tells her little girl, the idiocy and sexism of traditional "fairy tales" and the general idea that a man could be a savior or a "prince charming" for any women, is mocked and ridiculed.
Dialogue for a Single Voice: this play is a clever attack on the way women are treated in relation to sex, with "the man above and I underneath, always caught." In other words, with the woman always being forced to play the passive role, and discouraged from showing her desire and interest in sex.
Medea: this play is related to the classic Euripides' play Medea, whose subject can best be explained by a short quote: "Children are like the heavy wooden yoke of a cow that men have put on our necks, the better to hold us down, to tame us, the better to milk us, the better to mount us."
Monologue of a Whore in a Lunatic Asylum: is about the horrible lives that prostitutes are forced into leading and the sisterhood between women which will eventually put an end to the horrible oppression of all women.
It Happens Tomorrow: is based on a real event and a real person, Irmgard Moeller (a Red Army Faction member who was arrested on 9 July 1972). On 18 October 1977, four Red Army Faction members (Irmgard Moeller, Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin, and Jan-Carl Raspe) "committed suicide" in Stammheim maximum security prison. Moeller was the only one to survive, and she has always maintained that there was no suicide pact between the prisoners, and that they were murdered, and she was stabbed.
Johan Padan and the Discovery of the Americas (1992): 109 pages. Written in the unconventional style which Fo enjoyed, i.e. "narrative theater." In such narrative plays, there is only one actor, and there is no dress or background or anything like that, but just a narrator-actor telling a story and acting in out, in a similar manner as with the popular storytelling which influenced Fo's style so much. This play is about a so-called "Discovery" expedition to the "New World" by a group of Europeans. It is by no means a tragedy, but a play of fierce and spirited indigenous resistance to European oppression. Fo explains it in the introduction this way: "First of all, you should know that this is not a woefully tale of Indian massacres perpetrated by the Conquistadors. And it is not the usual story of a defeated race. On the contrary, it is an epic chronicle of Indians who were victorious." Also, you will notice that the text of this play is accompanied by many beautiful drawings which illustrate what is happening. These drawings were sketched by Fo himself, who studied architecture in his youth.
The Virtuous Burglar: 37 pages. Deals with morality and the bourgeoisie: a poor thief is definitely more virtuous than your typical bourgeois!
Francis the Holy Jester: 76 pages. A humorous/progressive portrayal of Saint Francis, somewhat along the lines of liberation theology.