When Dario Fo arrived in New York last November, he remembered to bring along his now-legendary wit: Speaking at a press conference here, shortly after an 11th-hour nod from the State Department permitted him one-time entry into the country, Fo thanked President Reagan for serving as his press agent. “From an actor of his calibre, we couldn’t expect anything less,” Fo stated with mock gravity. “Before his great publicity stunt of twice denying my visa request, I wasn’t well-known in the U.S. Now…well, I think Mondale was punished for not thinking of it himself!”
His remarks took on a more earnest tone when Fo turned to the reason for his visit—the production of his Accidental Death of an Anarchist which was to open in just one short week on Broadway, in a new American adaptation by Richard Nelson, directed by Douglas Wager. “I think it’s very important that we have finally made it to New York,” Fo noted, nodding at his wife, actress Franca Rame. Though he admitted that it was decidedly late in the process for the playwright to come on board, he said that he hoped he and Rame could observe rehearsals and previews, and add their comments.
When asked how he felt about the concept of adapting his plays for an American audience, incorporating the most current and immediate events, Fo offered his stamp of approval. “It is good to make these adaptations. How and how much—that’s the measure of good theatre.” Rame added that it’s not important where a play is performed as long as the ideology is respected. When asked about seeing his work performed in “that bastion of capitalism known as the Broadway theatre,” the proudly populist theatre artist shrugged. “This is not the first time my work has been done in non-revolutionary theatres. Some of the worst productions have been in revolutionary theatres, and a very good production of Anarchist was at a mainstream theatre in London. Remember,” he added, “Brecht has been performed on Broadway. And I don’t think any member of the Berliner Ensemble complained.”
The day after Fo addressed the press and sat in on his first rehearsals of Anarchist at the Belasco Theatre, he had an opportunity to meet with members of the theatre communitv at a reception in his honor sponsored by Alexander Cohen, Theatre Communications Group, the International Theatre Institute and the Dramatists Guild. After an introduction by TCG president Lloyd Richards, in which he noted that
“America has given Fo more characters to caricature than any country in the world,” Fo spoke enthusiastically of his reaction to the Broadway production, noting that it “respected the rhythms of real Italian theatre.”
The group, anxious to understand the truth behind Fo and Rame’s difficulties with the State Department—ostensibly due to their involvement in an organization known as Soccorso Rosso (Red Aid) and their “terrorist sympathies”—may have been surprised by Fo’s comments on the matter. “It was the Italian government that was responsible for our trouble getting into the U.S.,” he stated. “America is the capital of the empire, and New York is the capital of the capital of the empire. It would be painful to the Italian government if we were to have success here, because our prestige among the people of Italy would go up.” Rame interjected that it was only their speculation that the Italian government was involved, but Fo added, “Our speculation is hardly ever wrong.” He attributed the ultimate acquiescence of the State Department to pressure from civil libertarian and cultural groups in the U.S. and Europe.
Fo admitted his shock at exorbitant ticket prices on Broadway, noting that at his theatre in Italy, tickets go for the uniform price of $6. He promised to confer with producer Alexander Cohen about possible provisions for lower ticket prices for less-privileged theatregoers.
After paying a tribute to America’s Living Theatre—“not just our friends, but our teachers”—Fo discussed future visits to the U.S. He and Rame hope to be permitted to come back for a longer stay, perhaps for a tour of several months. “We’d like to return to meet theatre artists, perform and exchange ideas,” he said.
In his first opportunity to speak directly to Americans, Fo was anxious to explain his attitude toward the U.S.: “I admit I’ve often attacked American politics, but l’ve never thought it was the same as attacking the American people. I think of America as the vast majority of its people, and not just the few people who own things. I will always criticize the people in charge of every structure—but never the people.
“It is the duty of every intellectual to denounce what does not work to the benefit of the people, and I do it in the only way I know—by making audiences first have fun, and then by engaging their intelligence, by giving them a new view of things.”
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