Fri, 03 Mar 2000

Italy's Nobel laureate Dario Fo: An artist of dignity

BANDUNG (JP): Italian literature is an old tradition that is rooted in 14th century scholars such as Petrach and Bocaccio. This tradition was inherited by Pietro Bembino (one of the first Italian grammarian) who wrote Prose della volgar lingua (Writings in the Vulgar Tongue), which was opposed by Gian Giorgio Trissino, who developed Dante's thoughts on the use of Italian as a literary language.

When names such as Dante Alighierri, Danielle Del Giudice, Antonio Tabucchi, Niccholo "The Prince" Macchiaveli, Umberto Echo etc. are recalled, people think they are not only famous in Italy, but around the world.

This old tradition of literature in Italy has given way to Dario Fo, who won the Nobel for literature in 1997. On Oct. 9 that year, the Swedish Academy announced Dario Fo as the laureate of the Nobel Prize for Literature 1997. The academy said Fo," ... emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden".

The artist -- dramatist, playwright, actor -- was born in Lago Maggiore in 1926. Fo is one of the leading artists and thinkers of Italy and helped revitalize the spirit of "fabulatore".

His commitment to independence and clear-sightedness have made him take great risks, the consequences of which he has been made to feel while at the same time experiencing enormous response from widely divergent quarters.

Two of his masterpieces are Accidental Death of the Anarchist (l970) and Mistero Buffo (1969), which is based on historic material as interpreted by Fo. Two artists that can be said to have had a significant influence on him are Mayakovski and Brecht. Fo is one of the leading figures in modern farce and political drama, but he also is greatly concerned with human dignity.

Politics is only a situation that inspires Fo's inner-self and something he can actualize in a very artistic and aesthetical manner.

Fo's strength is in the creation of texts that simultaneously amuse, engage and provide perspective. The strength of commedia dell'arte is that it opens actors to creative additions and dislocations, continually encouraging actors to improvise, all of which means the audience is turned on in a remarkable way. Fo, with his oeuvre of impressive artistic vitality and range, can easily actualize his expression.


Fo has a "stage ancestor", his grandfather who was a well- known fabulatore. Fo made his artistic debut in radio with a series of monologues Poer Nano (Poor Dwarf). He began acting in 1952 (Teatro Odeon, Milan), and he also was writing plays, beginning with satirical cabarets for Piccolo Theater.

His wife Franca Rame -- whom he married in 1954 -- was an ideal partner and together they founded their own company in 1959. Rame was the leading lady and Fo the writer, producer, mime and actor.

The couple was a prototype of the "actor-actress couple". They have managed a number of theater companies since the 1960s, and Fo gained international fame in 1960 with Gli arcangeli non giocano a flipper (Archangels Don't Play Pinball).

In 1968 with the support of the left-wing support, Fo founded the theater cooperative Nuova Scena, which closed shortly thereafter because of ideological controversy. The year 1970 was important to the couple, as they both parted ways with the Communist Party and founded the theater collective La Commune.

In the beginning the company occupied Palazzina Liberty theater in Milan, then the company was given a permanent theater, which opened in 1974 with the successful We Can't Pay We Won't Pay!.

Fo had a kind of opposition to conformity, and the courage of his convictions and his political and social commitments involved him over the years in numerous court cases and controversies with the Italian state, police, censors, television (the "scandal program" Canzonissima) and the Vatican (according to the pope, Mistero Buffo "desecrated Italian religious feelings").

He had a bitter experience with the U.S. government in 1980, when he was refused an entry visa to the U.S. for a performance because of his membership in Soccorso Rosso, an organization supporting prison inmates. Together with Rame, Fo has written a number of monologues, including Tutta casa, letto e chiesa (All Home, Bed and Church), inspired by the struggle of Italian women for the right to divorce and have legal abortions. His collected works consist of scripts of plays and novels, and in 1981 Fo was awarded the Sonning Prize.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

The performance by Actors Unlimited in Bandung on Feb. 24 and Feb. 25 of Fo's 1970 play Accidental Death of an Anarchist can be seen as significant for the introduction of Italian literature to Indonesia.

It has double significance, first in widening the Italian cosmology (i.e. literature) to the Indonesian public -- in particular -- which could mean a boom in popularity of Italian (modern) literature in Indonesia. This could result in greater appreciation for Italian culture and civilization among Indonesians.

Second, in its pragmatic implications, the performances served as a promotion for the Foundation of the Center of Italian Culture in Jakarta. The performances -- which were greeted by full houses on both nights -- proved the public's enthusiasm for Fo in particular and Italian culture in general.

Fo -- through the interpretation of Actors Unlimited -- behind his "rough and tough" words, straightforward criticism and child- like and "shocking" mannerisms, actually roots his ideas and thoughts on the search of human dignity.

A search that has been on-going since the dawn of human history and civilization. Fo is one of the thinkers and artists who can enlighten humanity through witticisms and his intelligent solutions, and Rame serves as his partner in achieving these goals.

-- Wawan S. Husin