in 1997, the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Italian actor/playwright Dario Fo, whom the Swedish Academy stated "emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden."
Despite his global renown, Fo's work is rarely performed in Winnipeg. The last major sighting was a 1986 MTC Warehouse revival of his Broadway hit We Can't Pay? We Won't Pay!, an ode to civil disobedience.
Winnipeg's Adhere and Deny, the theatre of objects and puppets, will debut Fo's 1981 political farce, Trumpets and Raspberries, at its pocket theatre at 315-70 Albert St., beginning Wednesday to Nov. 30.
The puckish Fo, 87, has been described as a cross between Lenny Bruce and Bertolt Brecht for the way he mixes crazy social farce with biting political satire. As a stage clown, he has spent his life mocking institutions of authority, from the Roman Catholic Church to political parties. His wit is reflected in the titles of his plays and sketches: Archangels Don't Play Pinball, The Seventh Commandment: Thous Shall Steal a Bit Less and the satiric comedy The Devil With Boobs.
"He's an iconoclast of the left," says Adhere and Deny's artistic director Grant Guy, who is also helming Trumpets and Raspberries. "He's been poking fun at everybody and everything. There are no scared cows. His win of the Nobel Prize upset a lot of people, including the Vatican."
For many years Fo and his wife, Franca Rame, were denied visas to visit the United States by the Reagan administration for their left-wing sympathies, although the U.S. eventually relented in 1984. Today he is an éminence gris of theatre who was chosen to write the communiqué for World Theatre Day 2013.
It's never easy to describe Fo plots -- they are all anarchic -- and Trumpets and Raspberries is no different. Even the title thumbs its nose proudly. It's original Italian name is Clacson, trombette e pernacchi, which refers to sounds that could be mistaken for farting.
The fictional plot revolves around a real political figure, Gianni Agnelli, the wealthy owner of Italian carmaker Fiat. During a kidnapping attempt, Agnelli is disfigured but is rescued by one of his lowly workers, Antonio. When Agnelli is taken to hospital wearing Antonio's jacket, he is mistaken for the latter and has his face reconstructed to look like his employee. Confusion reigns when Antonio finds himself the chief suspect in a kidnap plot against himself while the wealthy Agnelli is thrust into Antonio's working-class life.
Guy says his 90-minute production will appeal to those sympathetic to the Idle No More and Occupy movements or those who are alarmed by the Canada-European trade agreement or pipeline plans.
"He captures that spirit and sense of dissent and outrage we feel as a people," says Guy. "It was written in the early '80s and parallels a lot of things that are going on in current society. It speaks across time."
Fo is looking at the role of government, which he believes has become nothing more than a service industry for the political and business elite. He wants to know who controls democracy, especially after watching the 2008 economic meltdown, in which big U.S. mortgage companies were bailed out while the Americans who bought their mortgages lost their homes. He advocates for democracy to be returned to the people.
In many of his works, Fo questions why society is set up the way it is -- why some people have and some people don't. The playwright is dead serious about spotlighting the inequities, although he is giggling as he does it.
"He is trying to make you laugh," Guy says. "Laughter is the one act of defiance that you can have against any authority -- church, state, unions, political parties. Our humour is one of our greatest weapons."
The playwright actively encourages directors to reshape his work as they see fit. Guy saw it as a puppet piece that incorporates shadow theatre and animation. His cast consists of Johnathan Bevan, Coral Maloney, Leigh Anne Perry, Chris Sabel and Megan Sekiya.
"I was also attracted by the farcical nature of the play," Guy says. "There is nothing subtle about it. It's all in your face."