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Europe: New Play By Dario Fo Puts Putin's Brain In Berlusconi's Body

  • Don Hill --> Berlusconi's got his brain How is this for a literary conceit? Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's rotund, irrepressible prime minister, is entertaining Vladimir Putin, Russia's trim, self-disciplined president, in Sardinia at the prime minister's summer residence. Chechen terrorists invade the meeting. They shoot Putin dead and mortally wound the prime minister. Two hours later, surgeons announce that Berlusconi's life can be saved only by transplanting Putin's brain into the Italian's body. The families agree, and the transplant succeeds.

Prague, 12 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The satirical play, called "Two Headed Anomaly," spilled from the acid pen of Italian playwright Dario Fo.

Fo received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1997 for his wild comic flights. In his Nobel lecture that year, he said the prize actually should have gone to the Swedish Academy itself -- for daring to award the prize to a jester.

But "Two Headed Anomaly" is more than the work of a jester. It addresses the serious problem of Berlusconi's immense wealth and political power in Italy. Fo says the play is true to the political situation that grips Italy today. In his words: "My satire is a paradox, and it is grotesque."

As the play works its way across the stage, the dialogue makes the grotesqueness of Dario Fo's combination of protagonists evident. It is difficult to suspend disbelief long enough to see Berlusconi's resuscitated character as a chubby, vodka-drinking paisano (Italian countryman) who does karate. But it is not difficult to accept the Berlusconi character as a boorish clown.

Many people still recall his public remarks last summer to a German member of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, with whom he was disagreeing.

"Mr. Schulz, I know there is in Italy a man producing a film on the Nazi concentration camps. I would like to suggest you for the role of kapo," Berlusconi said.

At the other extreme, the Vladimir Putin that most of the world knows from his TV appearances is sober-sided, unsmiling and severe, as he appeared recently at an international meeting of mayors in Moscow.

"The frontline of this war [on terrorism] brought upon us could cross any street and any house. In this war, there is no rear or neutral zone. And where terrorists do not receive an adequate response, their bases and coordination centers crop up," Putin said.

This tendency toward severity by the real Putin heightens the sense of absurdity one feels in confronting a Putin mind trying to cope from inside the rotund Berlusconi physique.

The starting premise of "Anomaly" -- a visit by Putin to Berlusconi -- certainly is valid. Berlusconi has entertained Putin lavishly in his Sardinian residence. And Putin was host to Berlusconi in Moscow as recently as last week.

Whenever these two get together, their contrasts make them conspicuous odd fellows. But, as the play makes evident, they have common characteristics. Each has amassed immense power over the affairs of his country. Each has acted inexorably to take greater and greater control of the media.

One critic suggests that Fo's latest play owes at least some of its success to a movement toward the theater among Italian dramatists, since critical works cannot readily gain access to television in Berlusconi's Italy.

Meanwhile, Fo refuses to be impressed by the pomp and grandeur of gatherings of the world's great and powerful. He works, he says, in the tradition of French playwright Moliere and Italian Angelo Bolo.

He says they were despised for exposing what he called the "hypocrisy and arrogance of the high and mighty."

In Fo's words: "Their major, unforgivable fault was this -- in telling these things, they made people laugh. Laughter does not please the mighty."