A welcome addition to Blue Stocking Week


A Woman Alone
Written by Dario Fo and Franca Rame
Performed by Maxine Garnsey
Directed by Anne O'Callaghan
Hayman Theatre, Curtin University, WA
Until August 31

Reviewed by Mary Little

A Woman Alone is consistent with the strong tradition of political theatre which became the trademark of Italian playwrights and performers Franca Rame and Dario Fo.

Maria has a maniacally possessive husband who regularly beats and humiliates her. She must also care for her brother-in-law, who is covered in plaster and confined to a wheelchair after a car crash, and has only his vital parts and one hand left intact.

As well, there is a heavy breather who calls three to four thousand times a day to abuse her and a peeping Tom in the apartment opposite.

The one moment of bliss in her life was the exotic affair she had with her young foreign lover. But the discovery of this by her husband led her to slash every vein she could see in her body. She did not die, and now her husband locks her in the house every morning when he goes to work. She is finally forced to take the situation in hand in order to save herself and her baby son.

From the time of their marriage in 1954, Rame and Fo worked closely together in comedies, television and political theatre, playing at times to huge audiences in parking lots, factories and circus tents.

Their commitment to political theatre came in 1968 when, as Fo said, he decided to stop being the "jester of the bourgeoisie" and, with Rame, resolved to use their talents in the struggle to radically transform Italian society.

They worked at first as members of the Italian Communist Party, but their satirical criticism of the party line, its bureaucracy and revisionism led to a break in 1970 and the setting up of their own political collective, La Commune, with its headquarters in Milan.

They inevitably became a target for censorship and attack. When they first appeared in the popular Italian television series, Canzonissima, their sketches were censored.

In 1973, Fo was arrested and imprisoned for alleged violations of theatre agreements, and in the same year Rame was abducted and beaten by fascists. The intervention of La Commune in Italian politics is witnessed by powerful plays such as Accidental Death of an Anarchist.

Rame belongs to a family of travelling players which, even under fascism, performed in the small towns and villages of Italy. In this context she learned the art of improvisation, of working with minimum sets and in a collective environment in which everyone shares in the organisation of a performance.

Fo came to the theatre as a stage designer, but soon developed extraordinary talent as a comic actor and writer. In both these capacities, he drew heavily on the tradition of commedia dell'arte, the improvisatory tradition which went from Italy to France and influenced the likes of Molière.

First-time director Anne O'Callaghan has captured both the comedy and the tragedy in the play, while Maxine Garnsey brings courage and vigour to the character of Maria.

Using a minimalist set, Garnsey sustains an emotionally truthful performance as she unravels Maria's story. The play's commentary on issues ranging from the role of the judiciary and the police to domestic violence are, unfortunately, still very relevant.

Many times the audience finds itself laughing at Maria's tragic situation, and it is clearly the humour of the play which allows the audience to digest the political themes and empathise with the dramatic solution she seeks.

The play coincides with Blue Stocking Week on campuses and is a welcome addition to the feminist activities planned.