Dario Fo, the left-wing Italian playwright whose satirical plays poked savage fun at contemporary society — modern capitalism in particular — has died at the age of 90, according to the Associated Press.
Mr. Fo was awarded the 1997 Nobel Prize for Literature. His 70-plus plays included About Face, Misterio Buffo and We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! (also translated as We Can't Pay, We Won't Pay).
At times Mr. Fo was a thorn in the side of Italian authorities. In 1980 the U.S. State Department banned him from entering the U.S. owing to his support for revolutionary activities in Italy. But a visa was granted in 1984 for him to see the Broadway production of his The Accidental Death of an Anarchist, which starred Tony winner Patti LuPone, among others. That play may be his best-known internationally.
At the time of his Nobel Prize win, The Nobel Academy in Stockholm, Sweden, hailed him for “emulating the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden. . . . His independence and clear-sightedness have led him to take great risks, whose consequences he has been made to feel. . . . With a blend of laughter and gravity, he opens our eyes to abuses and injustices in society and also the wider historical perspective in which they can be placed.”
The New York Times reported at that time that Italian director Giorgio Strehler said the selection of Mr. Fo “can only give further prestige to Italian literature and our theatre.” On the other hand, the Vatican's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, wrote, “giving the prize to someone who is also the author of questionable works is beyond all imagination.” Several of Mr. Fo's works attacked the Vatican and the Catholic Church. The Italian news agency, ANSA, quoted Mr. Fo as saying he was “amazed” at winning the prize, since his name had not been on the short list of Nobel-watchers.
According to the BackStage Theatre Guide, Mr. Fo, who was born in 1926, started as a comic writer and performer in Milan theatre in the 1950s. He eventually formed the Fo-Rame Company (1959-68) with his wife, Franca Rame. After achieving commercial success in Italian theatre, Fo and Rame set up the Compagnia Nuova Scena cooperative, where Fo's first solo was Mistero Buffo, which partly used the made-up language “grammelot,” used by medieval strolling players to avoid political censorship. After Compagnia Nuova Scene, Mr. Fo founded the La Comune theatre collective in working-class Milan. Accidental Death (1979), as translated by John Lahr, had its U.S. premiere in 1983 at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. A 1984 production, adapted by Richard Nelson, played at Arena Stage in Washington, DC. The Nelson version came to Broadway (with Jonathan Pryce, Bill Irwin and LuPone) that November but closed after 15 previews and 20 regular performances.
Anarchist was based on the death of Giuseppe Pinelli, an anarchist railway worker who had “accidentally” fallen from a Milan police station window during an interrogation about planting bombs.
Other plays by Mr. Fo included Archangels Don't Play The Pin Tables (1959), Seventh: Thou Shalt Steal A Little Less (1964), Trumpets And Raspberries (1981), Elizabeth (1984) and The Open Couple (1986).