Dario Fo, uncompromising theatrical great, dies at 90 (or “mom’s pot is always best”)

dario-foIt felt like a brick hit me in the gut this morning when I learned that Dario Fo, theatrical genius and one of the all-time greats of political and social activism, has died at age 90.

Click here for the New York Times obituary of the Nobel prize winner.

And even if you don’t read Italian, click here for the Repubblica cover-story devoted to his passing. It will give you a sense of the larger-than-life role that he played in Italy’s literary arts and the country’s collective social conscience.

Dario Fo, his wife and partner Franca Rame, and the plays he wrote and produced have shaped my intellectual life since I first read one of his works as an undergraduate student of Italian at U.C.L.A.

His brilliant 1958 farce “Non tutti i ladri vengono per nuocere” (typically translated as “Not All Thieves Come to do Harm” but perhaps better rendered as “Burglars Aren’t All Bad”) was one of the first modern-era plays I read in the original Italian (after Pirandello). His deft hand at parodying the western bourgeoisie, its bigotry and hypocrisy, blew my mind (by means of both style and substance) and sent me down a path that led to other pivotal texts and discourse (by him and others) that formed and informed much of my view of the world.

As California sits on the verge of legalizing marijuana (creating a de facto “confederacy of state-regulated marijuana use”) his 1975 farce “La marijuana della mamma è la più bella” (“Mom’s Pot is Always Best”) couldn’t be more topical. “The rich consume drugs,” he wrote, but “drugs consume the poor.”

One of the most thrilling moments of my first year at university in Italy was seeing him and Franca Rame perform in Rome and meeting them both in the lobby before the curtain came. When I asked him to sign my program and told him I was an America fan of his plays, he smiled that grand smile and those unforgettably wide eyes sparkled. That starstruck night was the first of many for me in search of unpalatable truths made less bitter by his brilliant and deliciously unforgiving humor.

Dario Fo, as day breaks in America, I wonder to myself: how can the sun come up without you? It must not know yet that you are gone.

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