History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/Italian Post-WWII
Dario Fo (1926-2016) was the most visible representative of late 20th century Italian theatre, featuring the black comedy: "Morte accidentale di un anarchico" (Accidental death of an anarchist, 1970). His comedies are characterized by a mixture of popular and artistic elements.
"The subject of 'Accidental death of an anarchist' is the death of Giuseppe Pinelli, who allegedly threw himself out of the fourth-story window of the Central Police Headquarters in Milan during an interrogation in 1969. The play goes into the case in exhaustive detail, including in the script lengthy citations from the official police report presented as testimony during the inquiry into the circumstances of Pinelli's death" (Cowan, 1975 p 106).
“This farce...was grounded…on 1969 in a bomb exploded in Milan…Pinelli was arrested...and killed...when his body flew out...of police headquarters where he was interrogated...[In the play], it is the maniac’s seemingly insane logic which is instrumental in unmasking the criminal folly of the police in their attempts to cover up their actions...His own distortion of language is the perfect weapon against the distortion of the facts perpetrated by the police and the media...As a certified psychotic suffering, according to the medical report, from ‘histrionic mania’, he is compelled constantly to play the parts of a whole range of characters. His masquerading as Professor Rabbia (the word means madness in Italian) is only the prologue to what will become a rapidly escalating sequence of impersonations. As the judge...he is able to run rings around police in their vain attempt to make sense of their confused and fabricated evidence...He forces the police literally to re-enact the events of the night the anarchist dies, with hilarious consequences, and gets them to admit they completely misled the suspect so as to browbeat him into a confession...They are put in the position of the anarchist as the judge invents the idea of the state using them as scapegoats ‘to salvage what is left of the mangled reputation of its police force’…The farce undergoes a further development with the entry of the journalist, Maria Feletti...Fo has deliberately organized the drama so that the most serious part of the play- the lengthy discussions…which expose…the wider corruption of the establishment- precisely coincides with the most comic: the inevitable realization by Bertozzo that the forensic expert is the maniac and the attempts of the others to silence him on the mistaken assumption that he is the judge in disguise...There is not a gag in the long final scene that is not there to underline a serious point” (Hirst, 1989 pp 41-51).
“One of the fundamental political purposes of the play...was the need to draw general conclusions from each individual scandal. At one point, the maniac outlines the normal sequence of events: ‘A huge scandal...A lot of right-wing politicians arrested...A trial or two...A lot of big fish compromised...Senators, members of parliament, colonels...The social democrats weeping’...The maniac also clarifies why a society obsessed by scandal furthers bourgeois interests: ‘You see, your average citizen doesn’t actually want all the dirt to disappear. No, for him, it’s enough that it's uncovered, there’s a nice juicy scandal and everyone can talk about it...As far as he’s concerned, that is real freedom, the best of all possible worlds’” (Behan, 2000 p 71). "Although Fo certainly pokes fun at the police officials in 'Accidental death of an anarchist', he does not present them merely as comic figures but rather as devious abusers of power...The maniac, at the play's end...threatens to do what Fo has just done: to put the insanity, injustice, and hypocrisy of the system before the people" (Maceri, 1998 p 13).
"Accidental death of an anarchist"
Time: 1970s. Place: Milan, Italy.
A madman is interrogated by Police Commissioner Bertozzo for impersonating a psychiatrist. The madman explains he has taken on several other roles in the past, calling his condition "histriomania". When Bertozzo leaves his office for a moment, he identifies himself over the telephone as the commissioner's colleague and gives misleading information about Bertozzo. As a result, the caller comes over to the police station and hits Bertozzo. The madman next takes on the role of a counsellor sent to investigate the suicide of a presumed anarchist who fell from a window of the police station. The false counsellor interrogates a second commissioner and a prefect. He determines that the two men told the anarchist that they had proof of his guilt when they had not and that they had lied to the media about the results of the interrogation. He tells them that the ministry of justice and the interior has suspended them. He utters desperate remarks on their situation while pushing them towards the window, then declares that the report is false. He next determines that the two men had untruthfully told the anarchist how they had evidence that an acquaintance of his had engaged in other acts of terrorism. To lessen suspicions of guilt, the madman tries to make them admit that they encouraged him to reveal himself by tapping him in a friendly way on the shoulder, by saying anarchy will not die, and by singing left-wing songs. In investigating the actual suicide act, a police officer reveals that to prevent the fall he had held on to his shoe so that it came off, but the madman points out that on the victim's body both shoes were on. A woman journalist is announced to conduct an interview on this matter. The madman dons yet another disguise, this time as a police technician working in the laboratory. The reporter determines that since no damage was found on the anarchist's hands, he was probably unconscious or dead before his fall. She next determines that the ambulance was suspiciously called before eye-witnesses ever saw him fall. It seems that the anarchist received a blow on the head after being told that the evidence presented by witnesses of his alibi was inadmissible. Commissioner Bertozzo returns and recognizes the madman disguised as his laboratory officer, but his colleagues try to shut him up. The madman next identifies himself to the reporter as a distinguished bishop sent to investigate the matter. To quiet Bertozzo, he injects him with a sedative. When Bertozzo takes out a revolver to defend himself, the madman tricks him into dropping it and then takes out a tape recorder with all the evidence he needs to expose the police.
Eduardo de Filippo
Eduardo de Filippo (1900-1984) reached dramatic heights with "Il sindaco del rione sanita" (The local authority, 1960) about a man serving as the unofficial judge of legal or ethical conflicts. “De Filippo continued the old tradition of Neapolitan popular comedy, which typically involved three interacting sets of characters. His works are set in his native city, and depict a wide spectrum of characters mainly from a lower middle-class background” (Marrone, 2006 p 250).
"The entire district depends on Antonio. Between one sentence and another he lightly drops crumbs of meditation; actually he speaks a continual monologue, since no one dares hold an opinion in his presence. The are the meditations of an old man who knows the world: on death, customs, and on the function of a Camorra boss. Every now a then the memory emerges of a long-past bloody exploit which turned eighteen-year-old Antonio from a shepherd into a murderer. He became an American gangster and finally a Camorra boss; he is rich, uncensured, and a protector of those 'ignorant whom he believes are the victims of an unjust society. Only those who 'have saints'- that is support, money, education, etc- go to heaven," which means that they can defend themselves by corruption and the ubiquitous pay-off envelope. Those without 'saints' must seek justice for themselves: threatening, wounding, killing; otherwise they are prey to any bully. Fortunately, the boss is there; he is the 'saint' for the 'ignorants'; he administers justice, makes peace, and controls and limits crime...The comedy's structure- with its long exposure and sudden catastrophe- has been criticized. I don't agree. Even if there is a lack of intensity in the third act, it is not due to a structural fault. On the contrary, the structure is faultless in the third act and masterful in the first two. The fact is there are two opposite interpretations of Antonio's final decision. the first is the first is a confirmation of the Camorra principle: 'he behaves in his own case as he did in others': upholding the peace, limiting bloodshed, and keeping clear of the authorities. In short, his own death has been an accident in the line of duty and the Camorra institution is not involved...There is a second, far more interesting meaning in the dramatic action. To what does Antonio finally bow? To the family. The baker is a hateful individual, 'a heap of dirt..a worm, a sluggard' who deserves death. Certainly Antonio isn't afraid of the sigh of blood, What is is then that protects the baker?...The rights and dignity of the head of the family (Codignola and Ruffman, 1964 pp 114-116).
Time: 1960s. Place: Naples and surrounding regions.
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Palummiello has just been shot by Nait for attempting to steal his job and is being treated late at night by Dr Fabio Della Ragione. During the same night, Antonio Barracano's wife, Armida, was attacked by one of their dogs and conducted at a hospital by one of their sons. At the age of sixty-four, Fabio has grown tired of his job and consequently wishes to immigrate to America. But he is dissuaded from this purpose after being warned by Antonio, local head of the Camorra, a Neapolitan gangster association equivalent to the Sicilian Mafia. As in other organizations of this kind who needs him to dispense medical treatment just as he himself dispenses justice as the local authority. Indeed, men in the region are in the habit of consulting the respected 75-year old Antonio instead of relying on the police and its judicial system, which is the case of Vicienzo and Pasquale. Vicienzo borrowed money from Pasquale at an exorbitant interest rate so that he can no longer pay the principal. Antonio's judgment is that Pasquale, having obtained more than the principal, should pretend having received his money and forget about it, to which he agrees without protest. Antonio next handles the case of Palummiello and Nait. He lightly blames the former for trespassing into a new territory but blames more harshly the latter for failing to consult him before this happening, slapping him in the face for good measure. Antonio next hears the case of Rafiluccio, a man intent on killing his own father, Arturo, a baker, who will no longer have anything to do with him. Antonio suspends his judgment on this more complex case. He first resolves the question on whether the dog who bit his wife should be shot, concluding that, being trained as a watchdog, his wife is to blame for feeding chickens in the early morning hours. Arturo arrives to explain that his son is shiftless and lazy and useless in his business. Having separated his property in three parts to his progeny in his lifetime, Antonio blames Arturo for being so unfeeling towards a son, but without result. Since Antonio is also unable to dissuade Rafiluccio from his purpose, he heads towards Arturo's shop and is stabbed in the spleen for his pains. "I had my pistol," Antonio explains to Fabio, "but I thought of my sons. If I shoot now, I thought, the chains of killings will stretch our to infinity." Instead, he invites the two along with others to supper and pretends that Arturo gave over to his son a large sum of money, to which Arturo finally submits. But when Antonio dies, Fabio reveals the plot, indifferent to the likelihood of impending massacres. "Perhaps destruction on this scale will pave the way for a different world," he avers, "a world that will have lost some of its gloss but will be that much fairer."
Clotilde Masci (1918-1985, also known as Francesca Sangiorgio) wrote "Le escluse" (The excluded, 1950) concerning the interactions between nine women and one man in a boarding house. It is akin to Terence Rattigan's "Separate tables" (1954) in depicting loneliness and separateness in communal living conditions. Masci also wrote "Wedding eve" (1952) about a woman's lie in robbing a jewelry store the day before her wedding and after the real thief is caught, weakly submitting to her husband and relatives. In "Sunset at dawn" (1955), a woman is physically abused by her husband but when he dies, her situation remains equally dismal as the result of the constraining state of widowhood. In "Fire on the rock" (1957), a woman enters into disastrous consequences after falling in love with her husband's brother. All these plays are characterized by the unfortunate circumstances attending women in and out of marriage.
Time: 1945. Place: Italy.
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Since Mrs Romualdi's husband is enamoured of a younger woman, she must knit twelve hours a day in a woman's boarding-house to pay her lawyer and get her money back from him in a lawsuit. She and other boarders, Paulette, Agata, Andreina, learn that a man will soon occupy an extra room in the house, to which Agata is irate. "I've never liked mingling with the opposite sex," she says. "Men are selfish devourers." Andreina is more cheerful about the prospect. Although her fiancé writes to her every day, the letters are uninteresting. "He's just got three topics: my degree, his grocer's shop, and his rhinitis," she says. Mrs Giacometti helps the half-demented 90-year-old Mrs Teresina walk in and sit down, waiting for her son to return, though dead in the previous war. The owner, Mrs Bianco, explains that she is forced to accept a man because a new rule from the House Commission forbids a war veteran to be refused lodgings, all the more so since Daniele spent twenty months in a German concentration camp. "Let's at least hope he can dance the boogie-woogie and has a presentable face," Paulette lightly comments. "I hope not," Agata sourly retorts. "Men are odious and insolent by nature, but if handsome doubly so, unbearable." Mrs Bianco takes Teresina apart to ask her when she will pay the amount owed her. Since Teresina has no money, Mrs Bianco accepts her piano in exchange for two months rent. Mrs Bianco is aghast at the small sum Teresina previously obtained from Paulette for a diamond pin, asking to become from now on her new dealer in jewelry. A few months later, Andreina is smitten by the charms of the new lodger, Daniele, but no longer wants to miss university classes because he wants to go to the cinema, where they get in for free thanks to her relations. Afraid to lose him, she changes her mind after watching him flirt with the housemaid. After she leaves, he flirts with Paulette, from whom he obtains cigarettes. Although engaged to a rich cheese merchant, she nevertheless promises him more cigarettes should he come to her room that evening to chat. For her part, Mrs Romualdi has very rapidly knit a woolen jacket for him while Renata, a school-teacher, gives her old pupil free English lessons since he hopes to obtain a passport and immigrate to America. However, he has difficulty concentrating on the lessons, being more interested in the jewels Teresina keeps in her room. Renata prevents the distracted old woman from going out and selling them herself, promising to take care of them and consult a jeweler to obtain a fair price. To attract Daniele towards Paris, Paulette now admits she separated from her merchant but has obtained from him a monetary settlement. She also promises to get Daniele a passport. On her part, Agata offers to try to get him a job at her office, a notion Renata strongly approves of. One evening, Agata proposes to Renata that they leave the boarding-house to live on their own, but she declines. As Agata leaves, a desparate Daniele knocks at Renata's door to be let in after strangling Teresina for her jewels. He wants to reach the street-door key to escape, but the two are interrupted by Giacometti and Agata who have discovered the dying Teresina, followed by Mrs Bianco, Andreina, Paulette, and Mrs Romualdi, though the purpose of the latter's entrance is to obtain morphine for her stomach pains after being diagnosed with a terminal neoplasm. With the doorman on his way to call the police and Renata helplessly seeking to protect him, Teresina unexpectedly appears to mumble soothing words over a prostrate Daniele as if he were her son. Mrs Bianco orders Daniele out before the police arrive. He does so with hesitating steps. After Teresina dies in their midst, Renata returns to her desk to continue correcting her students' school-work.