Foreign Criticism

Dario Fo: Stage, Text, and Tradition

Joseph Farrell, Antonio Scuderi, eds. Carbondale, Southern Illinois University Press, 2000. 222 pages, ill., $39.95


Dario Fo: Stage, Text, and TraditionMORE THAN THREE YEARS have gone by since Dario Fo won the Nobel Prize in Literature (9 october, 1997), yet the flurry of publications on the Italian author has not abated. The volume under review proves either that winning a prestigious prize provides more steam to the printing presses than one can actually imagine, or that Fo always possessed timeless qualities which justified the award of the Nobel in the first place. Obviously the authors of the eleven essays in Dario Fo: Stage, Text, and Tradition would argue for the second of these points of view. It is in fact the premise included in the introduction to this book that Fo's opus is of lasting quality, which the essayists proceed to examine and identify. Their goals consist in locating Fo in history, tracing his development through the successive phases of his career, incorporating his politics and ideology, and setting his theatrical achievements within a context and tradition. Given Fo's multiple roles as an artist, it is inevitable that a number of the essays touch on the fundamental roles of writer and performer as well as the relationship between the written word and what is eventually performed on stage. And because this is a book in English, the subject of translation also figures prominently. In one of the most interesting essays, Ron Jenkins takes us to the stage as he details his challenging role of interpreter during Fo's performances in English-speaking countries because of the writeractor's constant improvisations. Even though Fo knows little English, he somehow manages to sense when the interpreter makes a mistake and on occasion even succeeds in incorporating the error into the performance.

Another aspect that seems to be of interest to the contributors is Fo's background, his roots. As usual, the by now well-known relationship between the commedia dell'arte and Ruzzante emerges, as well as the tradition of the author-actor in Italian theater, particularly in the nineteenth century but also in the twentieth, as in the case of Eduardo De Filippo. In one of the essays, Antonio Scuderi traces Fo's origins all the way to classical Roman comedy.
Inevitably, the quality and interest of the essays are uneven. Some of them have the odor of dissertations, with very long quotes, and on occasion are loosely organized, dealing with issues which stray far from the title topic. Others are very well researched, and still others spend a good deal of ink telling the plot of the plays studied, suggesting their audience may be totally unfamiliar with Fo.

The question of audience for the book is, in fact, the primary problem, for we are never clear whether it aims to reach the expert or the novice student of Fo. The awarding of the Nobel Prize to Fo expanded the definition of literature to include performance as being as worthy of recognition as the written word. The book at hand adds to his recognition, but it also makes clear that even if Fo's success in Italy may be due to his talent as a performer, the popularity of his plays abroad must be related to something else: the words he has put on paper.

by Domenico Maceri, Allan Hancock College

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