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, first being
effectively banned from state television for their radical work, their
plays began to take a more radical stance, more reflecting of their
Marxism, and they started working more closely with 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
stabilized in an independent Marxist position, which they still
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 the
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 rightists. A very strong woman, Franca
returned to the stage after two months, condemning the fascists
Their plays are unashamedly political, 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 are 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.
Three Sailing Ships, and a Con Man (1963):
85 pages, mocks Columbus and Queen Isabella and their genocidal,
racist, and sectarian lives and the economic reasons behind their
116 pages, a satire of official catholicism which the Catholic Church
of course condemned, it also makes the point 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 concerned with Fo's deep interest and affinity with medieval
jesters who used their humor to attack the rich and powerful.
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 up 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
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.
Pay, Won't Pay! (1974):
81 pages, in this play Fo uses as his topic a certain 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 every bit as justified
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 the workers. The play also
shows how circumstances can push even the more reformist-minded workers
to become radical.
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, and 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 continually 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.
Peasants Bible (1978): 46 pages, a progressive, satirical,
every-man's take on a few selected biblical stories.
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 managers of the
state, working in the interests of the capitalists. 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. They are the real controllers of the
government and country, no matter what figures occupy the presidency or
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.
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.
Pope and the Witch (1989):
111 pages, a satire directed against the pope and the Vatican as a
whole. Fo portrays the pope as a insane, dogmatic idiot, and
consistently criticizes the Vatican's position on many
things, among them: 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 illegalizing drugs
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).
Adulto Escapes from the Zoo (1991):
72 pages, this is 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 problems facing women and the sexism which faces them,
and yet all of the plays are comedies, but
this does not take away from the very serious nature of the subjects
being portrayed and discussed. I will give a few brief notes about each
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
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 in any way
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
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 said that there
was no suicide pact between the prisoners, and that they were murdered,
and she was stabbed.
Padan and the Discovery of the Americas (1992):
109 pages, was written in the unconventional style which Fo himself
first made popular, i.e. "narrative theater." In
such narrative plays, there is only one person, 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 bunch of Europeans. But
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.
37 pages, deals with morality and the bourgeoisie: a poor thief is
definitely more virtuous than your average upper bourgeoisie!
the Holy Jester: 76 pages, a humorous/progressive portrayal of
Saint Francis, somewhat along the lines of liberation theology.