"Accidental Death of an Anarchist" by Dario Fo, Italian playwright and Nobel Laureate 1997

Dario Fo, Italy's Nobel Laureate 1997.
Dario Fo, Italy's Nobel Laureate 1997. | Source
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1980

Yes, we are going back in time so as to talk about the present. In the summer of 1980 I made my first trip to Europe. I was on a 65-day European tour with the University of Illinois at Urbana. A friend was supposed to accompany me, but she backed out days before the trip. This turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me.

I forged on through the European tour alone and made the most amazing friends on that tour that I might not have made had I gone with a friend. We started in early June in Madrid, Spain and covered Europe from Sweden to Greece and her gorgeous islands and ended our tour in London, England in August.

By that time we were so glad to be in a country that spoke English, we could hardly believe it. And the English people were so friendly and welcoming. We were pinching ourselves because we were spending an entire week in London and what a great city it is.

Besides seeing the city sights, London Tower, Parliament, Big Ben, Harrods, Buckingham Palace, The Globe Theater, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul's, the British Museum etc. we had a week of evenings spent at the London Theater section, Covent Gardens.

I was in my glory. I believe we saw about eight plays that week and I found the English theater and stage to be just as good as, if not better, than Broadway. I cannot remember every single play I saw that week, now, but one play stood out as the best of all the rest.

Accidental Death of an Anarchist, by Dario Fo, an Italian playwright, was one I had never heard of before. But, in London, I heard that this play had been banned in the U.S. So of course, I had to see this play. And, being of Italian descent on my mother's side, I couldn't believe an Italian playwright had been banned by the U.S.

This was 1980, Jimmy Carter was President of the U.S. What do you mean this play was banned in the U.S.? I didn't know we had censorship in my country! What was going on here?

Well, this play is the most hilarious play I have ever seen and yes, it had been banned by President Jimmy Carter, himself. Wasn't Jimmy Carter a liberal? How could this be?

Well, not being familiar with Dario Fo or his plays, I didn't realize I was in for a satirical treat. Fo himself describes his play as "a grotesque farce about a tragic farce." And a farce it was. This was theater I had never seen or experienced before and I didn't know my 'paisan' was such a gifted, talented and creative playwright.

But, first, a little about Dario Fo.

Dario Fo and his wife Franca Rame.
Dario Fo and his wife Franca Rame. | Source
American playwright Arthur Miller
American playwright Arthur Miller | Source
American novelist Bernard Malamud
American novelist Bernard Malamud | Source
Martin Scorcese, American film producer and director.  Miller, Malamud and Scorcese along with others all protested the U.S. ban of Dario Fo's plays in the 1980's.
Martin Scorcese, American film producer and director. Miller, Malamud and Scorcese along with others all protested the U.S. ban of Dario Fo's plays in the 1980's. | Source

Have you ever seen a Dario Fo play?

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Dario Fo 1926 -

Dario Fo is Italy's most widely performed playwright. He is also an Italian actor, comedian, singer, theater director and political campaigner.

He is also the most widely performed contemporary playwright today in world theater. Much of his dramatic work depends on improvisation and he also uses older forms of theater that are no longer used today.

For example, he uses the Italian, giullari, medieval strolling players, and the ancient Italian style of commedia dell' arte. And, Fo used these forms in his play, The Accidental Death of an Anarchist. This is where his use of farce, hyperbole, sarcasm. and lampooning come from.

Fo has incorporated these old forms of Italian theater into his present theater, which he is still writing today at age eighty-seven, and has been delighting audiences for more than five decades.

He was born in 1926 in the town of Legguino Sangiano, Lombardy, Italy on the eastern shore of Lago (Lake) Maggiore. He comes from a family of writers and actors. His mother was a writer, having written a memoir of her life in Italy, and his father was a station master for the Italian state railway. And, his father was also a sometimes actor for the socialist amateur local theaters.

Therefore, Fo grew up with leftist leanings influencing him. In 1940, he traveled to Milan to study at the Brera Academy. However, because of WWII, Fo joined Mussolini's Repubblica Sociale Italiana. This did not last long.

Fo later became active with his father and other family members in the anti-fascist Italian Resistance and helped them to smuggle refugees and Allied soldiers into Switzerland, the neutral European country during WWII. It is believed they also helped Jewish scientists to get into Switzerland disguised as Lombard peasants.

After the war, Fo returned to the Brera Academy and took up architectural studies at Politecnico di Milano. He started to write his thesis on Roman architecture but became disillusioned by the cheap impersonal work expected of architects at this time after the war. He left his studies right before taking his final examinations.

As a result, Fo suffered a nervous breakdown, but this was probably was a benefit to him because of the course his life would take. His doctor advised him to spend time doing what brought him joy. So, he began to paint and became involved in the piccoli teatri (small theater) movement in Italy.

Along with painting theater sets, he also began to act on the stage and began to present improvised monologues. Improvisation would become an important part of his stage plays.

He began writing and performing in Italian radio and television in the 1950s and his work has been described as "absolutely original, with an extraordinary humor, wit, and personification."

He began by writing plays with satire, lampoons, and parodies of Shakespeare's plays, fairy tales and Italian life.

He then moved on to working in the Italian state theater and then on to private theater companies.

In 1954, he married fellow Italian actor, Franca Rame, the daughter of a theatrical family and they have had a lifetime collaboration in the theater. The couple founded Campagnia Fo-Rame and produced, wrote and acted in plays.

in 1955, their son, Jacopo, was born and he has become a writer.

His plays and writings in the 1960s 70's and 80's were full of humorous and satirical criticisms of assassinations, corruption, organized crime, racism, Roman Catholic theology and war. The country of Italy was ripe in those years with all of these characteristics and run by a highly duplicitous Italian bureaucracy.

And, it is true, in 1980, U.S. authorities did block Fo and Rame from entering the U.S. to produced a play here in the U.S. They followed this with a ban of all of Fo's plays being performed in the U.S. That President Jimmy Carter went along with this has always surprised me and I was unaware that our country censored any written works of foreign artists.

I learned a lot that summer from my travels! Attending this play is the most subversive thing I have ever done concerning my country.

Joseph Papp, along with Arthur Miller, Bernard Malamud, Richard Foreman and Martin Scorsese all wrote letters to President Carter and the State Department objecting and protesting against the ban. Unfortunately, their letters and objections fell on deaf ears and blind eyes.

In 1983, the U.S. again banned Fo and Rame and their works from the U.S. This time they claimed Fo supported Italian terrorist groups. Since the couple had never even been suspected of terrorist leanings in Italy, Fo and Rame filed a lawsuit against the U.S. State Department for defamation and also to lift the ban of their works here in the U.S.

In the 1990s and 2000s Fo's writings have lampooned Forza Italia and its leader Silvio Berlusconi. And, believe me there is a ton of fodder on Berlusconi to laugh at.

As of the 2010s, his writings have criticized the European sovereign debt crisis.

His greatest achievement by far was winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1997. The Swedish Academy described Fo as "a writer who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden."

Many Italians and non-Italians were surprised when Fo won the Nobel Prize, but none more surprised than Dario Fo himself. He had always considered himself and actor first, and a writer second. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in tandem with his wife, Franca Rame, as they had written some plays together.

Fo is the third Italian to win a Nobel Prize in Literature and he won it for his play writing.

Today, he owns and operates a theater company in Italy and continues to write plays.

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"Accidental Death of an Anarchist" by Dario Fo

Fast forward to the present, 2013, and we have his play being performed today with the same zeal, hilariousness, and satire as when I first saw it in 1980 in London. Today, it is performed in the U.S. and is being performed this month at the Yale Repertory Theater in New Haven, Connecticut

Accidental Fall of an Anarchist was written and first performed in Italy in December 1970. Fo wrote this play right after right-wing extremists and the Italian Secret Service carried out a "terrorist" attack on the Banca Nazionale dell' Agricoltura in Piazza Fontana in Milan in 1969.

The play is a farce based on the events of a real person, Guiseppe Pinelli, who fell or was thrown from the fourth flour window of a Milan police station in 1969. He was an Italian railway worker accused of being a terrorist and bombing the bank. After his tragic death Pinelli subsequently was cleared of the charge by the Italian police.

This play is considered a classic of the 20th century theater.

The events of the play are fictional and the play opens with Inspector Bertozzo interrogating 'The Maniac', one of the usual crazy suspects, the Italian picked up from time to time. They are on the first floor of the police station.

'The Maniac' keeps outsmarting the dim-witted Inspector and when Bertozzo leaves the room, 'The Maniac' intercepts a phone call from an Inspector Pissani. 'The Maniac learns that a judge is due at the police station to investigate the interrogation and death of the anarchist who fell from the fourth floor window.

Being the crazy man he is, 'The Maniac' decides too impersonate the judge and investigate the death, all which he does successfully. Did Guiseppi Pinelli jump from the window or was he pushed?

'The Maniac' has the Italian police re-enact the events on the fourth floor room and it also involves a female journalist who is probing the events for the news. 'The Maniac', of course, is trying to prove the police pushed or threw this unfortunate railway worker out the window.

The play ends with two alternative endings:

  • Feletti (the journalist) leaving the four policemen on the fourth floor to be bombed
  • Feletti uncuffs the men who in turn handcuff her to the window frame leaving her to die

'The Maniac' leaves the audience to decide which ending is best.

Of course, the farce comes in with the goofy characters running the Milan police station. It is something like the Keystone Kops. 'The Maniac' is a notorious liar, quick change con artist and certified maniac. In fact, he wears his commitment papers on his sleeve just to be ready when he is picked up by the Milan police.

However, only he can cut through the massive bureaucratic duplicity and reveal what happened to the suspected anarchist who died at the bottom of the fourth floor police station window.

He is the honorable one, the bastion of justice in an Italian world of common place deception and organized corruption. Fo, through this farce, pokes fun at the hypocrisy, avarice and cowardice of the Italian Establishment.

Fo writes his play in the commedia dell' arte spirit and hence all the characters are seen as 'clowns.'

I laughed uproariously at this play. Even being half Italian I was aware of what the Italian government and police were like. Yes, it poked fun at a serious situation. It brought levity to making a serious statement and look at the corruption inherent in the Italian government system.

So why was this play banned from being performed in the U.S.? Perhaps it hit home too much? Is the message to us that we are not to write satire, farce or lampoon against our own government or bureaucracy?

My guess also was that maybe President Carter and the State Department did not want to support Fo and his play because he was dissing the Italian government and they had to have a working relationship with Italy, being part of the G8 and all. Did our government bow to the pressure of the Italian government in this instance?

What is also interesting about Fo and his plays is he revises them to update them to current events so that when they are performed they are still relevant. He even allows the directors and producers to add or revise the plays to fit the moment.

And this is exactly what the Yale Repertory Theater has done. In Act II of Fo's play, 'The Maniac', played by Steve Epp, drops his character to deliver a monologue attacking W's presidential administration for its paralleling deception and injustices (WMD in Iraq and torturing terrorists) and it also includes a few gabs at the Obama administration just to even things out. No one is safe from Fo's sarcasm.

This is Dario Fo. He completely supports this being done with his plays as they are then kept current and remind us of the corruption in government. This also delights the liberal and left leaning American theater goers. Most American tea partiers don't attend Dario Fo plays, for this reason.

The monologues and improvisations are encouraged by Fo and he also encourages, "hyperbolic satire of governmental abuse and injustice," through the performances of his plays.

The Yale performance of the play is performing the same London performance that I saw in 1980. The director, Chris Bayes, has changed some of the British slang to American slang for American audiences and he has added music to give it an Italian street theater feel.

What ever the case, I am glad Dario Fo's plays are being performed here in the U.S. It is up to us, the theater goers, to be intelligent enough to understand the satire involved and not to become anarchists as a way to rid our government of corruption.

It is up to our government to trust in the intelligence of the American people not to become anarchists as a result of seeing this play. Censorship is never a good decision for a government to make.

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Yale Repertory Theatre 2013

© 2013 Suzette Walker suzettetaos

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Comments 18 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

Thanks for the information, Suzette, and it was interesting, but I was most impressed with the introduction. That is where you hooked me on this article....a lesson many could and should learn. Well done!


ocfireflies 2 years ago

Suzette,

As I mentioned in an earlier exchange, censorship is taking center stage where I live with Allende's "House of Spirits." As far as I know, nothing has been settled. I am glad to hear that the ban has been lifted on Dario Fo's work here in USA. Excellent write as always. V+/Share

Kim


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Bill: I have been wanting to write this one for a while now. That was a fun and interesting summer and I was stunned to learn the U.S. censored foreign authors. What an eye opener that was! When we hit London, naturally we hit the pubs and we were in a pub one afternoon or evening and struck up a conversation with some Brits and asked what plays were good to see in London. Lo and behold they showed us the theater section of a Time magazine with an article in it about Dario Fo being banned in the U.S. So, of course, several of us made sure to see that play! LOL To this day, I don't see anything wrong with it - it is nothing worse than what you see on SNL every week. Humor is so wonderful to use to deflect and look at certain situations. I thank Tina Fey and her SNL portrayals of Sarah Palin for NOT having her as a vice-president. LOL Anyway, what a wonderful summer and learning experience that all was!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Kim, I remember you mentioning this before. And that evening I checked my bookcase upstairs and yes, there was my copy of Allende's

"House of Spirits." I read it years ago and it saddens me that where you are this book is being banned. I know school boards that have tried to ban books here in Ohio - that has happened here a few times, but Dario Fo was the first author I ever knew to be banned from the whole country. I detest censorship. We as citizens have to be able to decide what to read and how to internalize it ourselves. Literature became so important to me and I knew I wanted to major in it when I read Bradbury's novel "Fahrenheit 451" in junior high. I was always impressed with the ending of that book when the rebels had memorized all the books that had been banned so they could pass them down word of mouth. It really hit home to me how important words and literature were in a society. And, where did I learn that lesson? Through reading a book, of course. Thanks so much for reading this Kim and I am glad you enjoyed it. Let me know what happens with Allende's book. I like her writing and I should do a hub on her also. I will get around to it eventually, I'm sure. Good to hear from you!


jhamann profile image

jhamann 2 years ago from Reno NV

Excellent hub, you write such passionate hubs about incredible topics. I am excited when I see them on my feed. Thank you for the great read. Jamie


mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 2 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

GWB “There's an old saying in Tennessee — I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, Fo me once, shame on — shame on you. Fo me — you can't get Fo’ed again." (Groan) I don't know Fo.

As for censorship....there has always been and always will be here and elsewhere.

As for your writing expertise, it is top notch.


Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 2 years ago from southern USA

Another excellent and interesting hub dear suzette! I loved reading about your travels back in the day and I bet you were in your glory : )

Wow, you were so blessed to be able to do such ... a world traveler indeed. So, thankful you are sharing of your experiences and knowledge.

Up and more and sharing

Blessings, Faith Reaper


phdast7 profile image

phdast7 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

suzette - You are such a good storyteller. I had never heard of Fo or his plays. What a fascinating man and work. I like that he and his wife wrked as an artistic team. Great stuff ad i appreciate you exploring the possibilities of why the US banned his play. Very interesting. Now that Christmas break is here, I am determined to catch up on some HP hubs and my favorite authors. Hope your December is going well. Sharing. Theresa


MG Singh profile image

MG Singh 2 years ago from Singapore

Great information and an interesting hub


Ashok Rao profile image

Ashok Rao 2 years ago from Mumbai, India

This is excellent stuff! I had read 'Death of a Salesman' by Arthur Miller many years back and I had enjoyed it. But I had never heard of Dario Fo or his plays. After reading this review I feel ashamed about it. Life is short and there is so much to explore. Suzette you are so creative - the introduction, choice of words, details. It was quite an education and I am happy to be a student again.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Jamie: I am passionate about literature and reading. I can't help myself and I write about the works that have amazed me and taught me something about life. That is what literature is all about. Thank you so much for your lovely comments and I am glad my hubs are interesting to you. I just want to recommend the books I love to others in hopes they will like or love them also. Thanks for visiting and for your lovely and kind comments. Most appreciated.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Mike: Thanks for reading and for your comments. Most appreciated.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Faith: Thanks so much for your lovely comments and I'm glad you enjoyed reading this. I am just a European traveler. There is so much of the world I have not seen. That is the wonderful thing about traveling - it puts the world in perspective and I realize I am just a small drop in the bucket compared to the rest of the world. LOL And, traveling has taught me so much and I have made wonderful friends through traveling no matter where I went. Anyway I can tie literature into the story, I do. LOL Thanks for your visit and I appreciate your comments.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Theresa: I had never heard of Fo either until that trip.. What an education one gets through traveling. I know you have experienced that too. I was amazed that the U.S. had banned he and his works. I thought that was a little over the top. There is nothing in that play that we don't see each week on SNL, so I think it only makes more people want to read and view his works because of the banning. I was amazed that a liberal president would censor, but I guess it doesn't matter the party - Carter was probably afraid of a monologue about him if the play was performed here in the U.S. Who knows? Any way, glad to see you are back and enjoy your vacation time - I know it goes quickly. Have a wonderful holiday season, Theresa and enjoy your family!


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

MG Singh: Thanks for your comments and I am glad you enjoyed reading this. I appreciate your visit.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

Ashok: You are so well read! I am impressed with your interest in literature from all around the world. I hadn't heard of Fo either until I hit London and was able to see one of his plays. I agree, life is so short and so much to read!! LOL But, you seem to be doing pretty well there, Ashok. Don't forget I am older than you and have had many more years of reading under my belt. But, you do well for your age. Thank you so much for your kind comments. I am thrilled that you enjoy what I write and find it helpful and inspiring. I think you must be an excellent teacher to your students and they are so fortunate to have you teach them. Thanks again, for your visit. Most appreciated.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 2 years ago

I had not heard of this play and glad you brought out the history and why it was banned from the US. Sounds like you really enjoyed the play and found it to be rewarding.


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 2 years ago from Taos, NM Author

teaches: Thanks so much for reading this. Yes, this play was interesting and at the time I was stunned it was banned in the U.S. Today, nothing surprises me. Thanks so much for your interest and I am glad you enjoyed this. Thanks for your comments.

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