Dario Fo, the left-wing Italian playwright whose satirical plays poke savage fun at contemporary society -- modern capitalism in particular -- was awarded the 1997 Nobel Prize for Literature, Oct. 9.
Fo's 70-plus plays include About Face, Misterio Buffo and We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! (also translated as We Can't Pay, We Won't Pay).
Fo, 71, has been a thorn in the side of Italian authorities thoughout his 50-year career. 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 Patti Lupone, among others. That play may be his best-known internationally.
The Nobel Academy in Stockholm, Sweden, hailed Fo 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 (Oct. 10) that Italian director Giorgio Strehler said the selection of 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 Fo's works attacked the Vatican and the Catholic Church. This year's prize purse is worth some $1 million.
The Italian news agency ANSA quoted Fo as saying he was "amazed" at winning the prize, since his name had not been on the short list of Nobel-watchers.
Fo was reported by AP saying he found out about his win in his car while driving to Milan. Another car pulled up beside him and someone held up a sign, "Dario has won the Nobel."
According to the BackStage Theatre Guide, Fo (b. 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, 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 Patti 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 Fo include 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).
Fo joins a distinguished list of dramatists, and other writers for the stage, who have won the Literature prize. Here is a partial list, with the year they won:
Seamus Heaney (Ireland) 1995
Derek Walcott (West Indies) 1992
Wole Soyinka (Nigeria) 1986
Isaac Bashevis Singer (U.S.) 1978
Samuel Beckett (Ireland) 1969
Jean Paul Sartre (France) 1964
John Steinbeck (U.S.) 1962
T. S. Eliot (U.K.) 1948
Eugene O'Neill (U.S.) 1936
Luigi Pirandello (Italy) 1934
George Bernard Shaw (U.K.) 1925
--By David Lefkowitz and Robert Viagas