This is our second show by Fo, in 1999 we did his Accidental Death of an Anarchist. It was our first co-production with TBPAC, which eventually led to us being named resident theater company.
I’m a huge fan of Fo. To probably oversimplify things, he’s a political clown, which combines two of my favorite things. By clown I’m speaking more in the more historical context as opposed to the Bozo-esque pie-in-the-face model. That’s no knock on anyone who went to Ringling Bros. Clown College, I just think a lot of people think of clowns as these absurd child-scaring drunks or pedophiles (Gacy, anyone?), and clowns really do have an important place in theater history. In fact, Fo’s personal translator Ron Jenkins was a graduate of that clown school and we’ll be using Jenkins’ (no relation) translation for our production coming up in June.
Dario Fo has made a career of being very critical of both the church and government in Italy. He’s a cult figure, sort of a comedic Robin Hood. He recently got into politics himself with a failed bid for mayor of Milan (the city where Anarchist, which was based on a true story, took place). From the ’60s on he’s had run-ins with the Vatican, the government, the mafia, paramilitary organizations – you name it. He and his wife have lived under protection; his wife has been abducted, tortured and raped; he’s been denounced by the Vatican; had a US visa denied; had his plays banned in his own country and abroad – and it doesn’t appear that any of it has ever slowed him down.
In 1997 Fo was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. As much as I may not wholly share his socialist views, Fo’s about as much of a hero of mine as they come. Let me be clear – I believe in democracy and love this country, but I can also look to Fo and what he’s stood for and how he’s gone about getting his voice heard and really respect and honor his approach.
One of the things that impresses me most is his use of paradox and the grotesque in just about every fashion on stage. Primarily, you can read one of his plays that is thick with sociopolitical thought (often relayed in an absurb series of comic events/mishaps) but which is also told in a fashion with such physical virtuosity that a distracting, paradoxical balance is struck. You’re distracted with the comic business and the mounting sequences of of events enough so that the messages steep in slowly but surely. Jenkins also wrote a book called Subversive Laughter and dedicates a chapter on Fo and his style.
Fo is a modern-day ‘giullare,’ the traveling storytellers of the Middle Ages, which had the same defiant comic spirit. They worked directly with their audiences, including them in their act. They were mostly working-class characters who attacked authority and injustice. Fo’s protagonists typically fit this mold. Comic provacateurs. Fo claims you can trace the lineage of the guillare until he was eventually neutered and become the Arlecchino (Harlequin) in the commedia dell’arte.
The guillare speaks directly to the people in an attempt to enlighten and provoke them to action. Isn’t that really what we see on TV now with good satire like recent episodes of “South Park” or the fake newscasts on “The Daily Show?”
I think fans of old cartoons, old TV like “The Honeymooners” and “I Love Lucy” as well as fans of strong satire will all find a lot to like in this show in addition to all the pinkos and lefties. Those that want to hear the political message will, those that don’t should be entertained enough with the over the top comedy, and just maybe we sneak in an idea or thought that someone realizes later after leaving the theater once the laughter has died off.
When we started Jobsite, Mike Caban and I were very dedicated to making sure that we stayed relevant politically and socially. We both interned with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and it was both a galvanizing and defining experience in both of our lives as artists. That dedication is right there in our mission statement. To us it’s not enough to just do little plays that everyone comes in comfortably for, leaves comfortably enjoying but in the end is really all rather empty – comfortably so. Hollow. Like a meal that leaves you hungry again an hour later. Plays like this, as well as America (abridged), Cloud 9 and even our upcoming 06-07 opener The Pillowman are all pretty clear illustrations of that commitment. They also happen to be some of my favorite shows we do.
Once upon a time I think my favorite shows were the “Halloween plays,” but as time goes on I think my heart resides more in my work behind the scenes on shows like The Mineola Twins and these plays by Fo and my acting in work like Cloud 9 and America (abridged).
In the next week or so we also hope to announce details on a partnership with Metropolitan Ministries to help drive food and visibility in the middle of the year when donations are often at a minimum and need is still high.
I really hope you can all join us for this one. It’s going to be a riot.