Comic Mistery Play

(Mistero Buffo)  Comic Mistery Play

The Swedish Academy, when it conferred the Nobel Prize for Literature on Dario Fo, motivated thus its choice: “Dario Fo… who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden… He if anyone merits the epithet of jester in the true meaning of that word. With a blend of laughter and gravity he opens our eyes to abuses and injustices in society and also the wider historical perspective in which they can be placed… The non-istitutional tradition has played a great role for Fo. He often alludes to the medieval jesters (joculatores) and their comedy and mysteries. The central work “Mistero Buffo” from 1969 is based on such historic material as interpreted by Fo.” “Nobel Prize for Literature 1997”

It was Dario Fo who for years gathered documents of popular theatre from various regions of Italy and re-fashioned them into a homogeneous work in which the actor’s mimicking capacity is the main means of theatrical expression. This  work has a mocking and prophetic flavour which, through the genius of Dario Fo, links us up with the popular theatre tradition going back to the Middle Ages, of great interest even today.

Mario Pirovano performs “Mistero Buffo”, the most famous show by Dario Fo, which is an extraordinary mix of  ‘comic and dramatic’ now considered a classic of the 20th century. He has translated this work into English (Comic Mistery Play) and has showed it in  Dublin.   Recently, he has performed “Mistero Buffo” in Asia.

In this one-man-show Mario Pirovano transports us into the realm of the provocative and sacrilegious medieval farce as well as the lively comedy of the Commedia dell’Arte. The farcical monologues that the actor presents are among the most brilliant in “Mistero Buffo”:

‘Zanni’s Hunger’ tells the story of an atavistic hunger and the rantings, ravings and acrobatic contortions it produces.

‘The Resurrection of Lazarus’ is a parody of the most popular miracle in the New Testament, seen as a great happening of its time.

‘The First Miracle of the Baby Jesus’ consists of the poetic tale, taken from the apocryphal Gospels, of how the Baby Jesus, whose companions have made some little clay birds, makes them fly, and how he reacts to the bossiness of those who destroy them.

‘Boniface VIII’ shows us the Pope in the magnificence of a procession, then in his meeting/confrontation with Jesus: a classic medieval anachronism, intended to underline the immense difference between the two characters.

‘The  Wedding at Cana’ is the narration of the miracle of the water, that Jesus transformed into wine for the pleasure of all the guests.

 ‘The Grammelot of Scapin’ and ‘The Grammelot of the English Advocate’ are some of the other texts from “Mistero Buffo” which Pirovano had occasion to perform.

Continual allusions to the present-day underlie the pieces and, giving rise to much laughter, unmask the present and mock its false ingenuousness.

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A bit of history

The term ‘mystery’ was already used in the 2nd and 3rd century A.D. to indicate a religious play or spectacle. And so a comic mystery is a grotesque spectacle. It was the common people who invented it. Since the first centuries after Christ the people have amused themselves, and it was not just amusement, by ‘playing’, as it was called, in shows of an ironic/grotesque nature. The theatre in fact, especially the grotesque theatre, has always been the first means of popular expression and communication, but also of provocation and the stirring up of ideas. Jesters performed in market-squares, courtyards and sometimes even in churches. Together with the players of the “Commedia dell’Arte”, known as “comici dell’arte”, they were the inventors of the “grammelot”, a term of French origin coined by the buffoons, clowns and jesters. These players made full use of grammelot gesturing, constrained by their situation as travellers in the midst of people speaking various languages, or by censorship laws which prohibited them from using language: they could at most mime or utter meaningless sounds. Stories from the tradition of those “comici dell’arte” have come down to us, telling us of the performances of the great exponents of grammelot.

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