Fo drew on various European traditions from the Middle Ages in composing the show, and performed it as a solo piece, which he approached more as a stage reading or lecture. With slides. The work is a construction of nine short monologues drawn from or inspired by tales Fo found in either the gospel of the Apocrypha, popular Christian stories not included in the accepted biblical canon, and surviving texts of medieval “giullari”; the traveling troupes of players and troubadours which were the source of Commedia dell’arte that would survive into the 21st century as touring circuses with their clowns.
Known in English simply as Mister Buffo, even the text itself is nothing if not daunting and damning to attempt; written by Fo in a hodge-podge of Italian, Latin, slang from Northern Italy and “grammelot” (a mixture of medieval French and Italian punctuated with nonsense sounds which is believed to have been invented by the comedians of the 15th century) as a way to puzzle and disarm the watchful eyes of the Inquisition.
The modern Vatican, however, was neither puzzled or disarmed and reacted to Fo’s postwar performance of his work on Italian TV as “the most blasphemous show in the history of television.”
Panos Vlahos, who is making his U.S. debut, has combed three pieces from the last half of Fo’s work to which to fashion his show, and in doing so chose perhaps the most scandalous of the text:
The Birth of the Jongleur
The Resurrection of Lazarus
Boniface VIII is a not too subtle indictment on the worldliness and wealth of the Church as Pope Boniface VIII preens and fusses over his wardrobe like Kim Kardashian before a shopping excursion to Rodeo Drive.
The Resurrection of Lazarus mocks the inability of the masses to comprehend the presence of the divine, as a crowd gathering to view Lazarus’ resurrection is depicted, when displaying the sanctity, as one in attendance at a Dodgers’ game.
Opening the evening is The Birth of the Jongleur, a relentlessly brutal tale of hope and holiness crushed when coming into opposition with the real world and the powers that be.
Fo based the main character of this piece on the lead performer of those medieval Italian traveling troupes the “giullare” which is typically translated in English as “jester” or in French as “jongleur.”
Neither term does the role justice. Clown, musician, juggler though he was, the “giullare” was also a poet, an important source of news and a rabble-rouser; think of Jon Stewart in a red nose plucking a lute.
Vlahos, under the direction of Lyto Triantafyllidou ** approaches his performance with both the skill and sincerity demanded by the piece.
The intention of the radical and leftist Fo, was to batter religion over the head with a club carved from the pure and simple faith of its earliest adherents in order to do away with the church and its mythos.
Vlahos has taken up that club, but with different intentions. His club is of softer matter and his blows are meant to tickle rather than destroy. Vlahos is one of the faithful, and to a great extent succeeds in using Fo to his own ends.
I suppose that is only to be expected.
Fo is dead, the Sixties are over and defamed and the fat cats are fatter than ever, so, in these much less radical and far more secular days of ours, the impact and assault of Fo’s original work may baffle most audiences. However Vlahos’ honesty of intent and his clownish mastery that detonates on stage in an explosion of agonized humanity in order to find resurrection in a combative mockery of the masses is mesmerizing to watch.
A GOLD MEDAL.
(** I have no idea how to pronounce it, but it would be worth 134 points in Scrabble!)
Playing During the Fringe 2017 at
6472 Santa Monica Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Learn More at misterobuffo.com/
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