“Franca, Not Only An Actor” at Carcano Theatre, Milan

Maggie Rose in Milan
25 May 2023


The tenth anniversary of Franca Rame’s death (29 May 2013) has been remembered with an international symposium and two shows curated by the Fo and Rame Foundation (set up in 2019).

The symposium, held in Verona and Milan, entitled, “Franca, non solo attrice” (“Franca, not only an actor”), highlighted the multifaceted nature of Rame’s life and work. She was indeed a superb actor but also a playwright, writer, political activist, company manager, archivist and Senator of the Italian Republic (2006-2008).

At Milan’s Carcano Theatre, I caught the show, Pensando Franca (Thinking about Franca). Curated by Rame’s granddaughter, Mattea Fo, on the one hand, it included fragments, some from Rame’s autobiography, La vita improvvisa (Life Suddenly) and a speech , In fuga dal Senato (published under the title, Fleeing from the Senate); Rame gave the speech to explain why she had chosen to step down as a Senator.

On the other, there were scenes from some of her and Dario Fo’s best known plays. As audience members waited for the evening’s entertainment to begin, the atmosphere struck me as somewhat sombre. Probably many people in the audience, like myself, were remembering this exceptional woman, but also those brilliant plays that she and Dario Fo had presented so often in Milan, sometimes at this very theatre, a few hundred metres from their home in the Porta Romana district of the city. However, the mood soon lightened when about a dozen red-nose clowns began moving around the stalls, cajoling and teasing us. An evening devoted to Franca, whose sense of wit and irony were remarkable, had of course to be seriously funny.

In a brief conversation with Mattea Fo, she explained that the three actors taking part in the evening’s entertainment had been selected to feature different generations of practitioners whose working relationship with the Fo-Rame company was very different.

The show opened with Valentina Lodovini performing Abbiamo tutte la stessa storia (We women have all got the same story), one of six monologues in All Home, Bed and Church from 1977.  Reviving a role she has performed many times, this popular film and television actor superbly captured the protagonist’s ever-changing moods. Confined to her home, she puts on a brave face, pretending all is well while every so often letting it slip that her jealous husband has locked her up and mistreats her.

And if that were not enough, she is being abused by her brother-in-law. At times, I felt myself wishing that the issues the woman raises were no longer relevant. Instead, nearly 50 years after the play was written, with violence towards women on the increase, its themes still chime loud.

Following scenes from Eve’s Diary and Mistero Buffo, interpreted by the splendid Marina De Juli, who worked with the Fo-Rame company for several years, we were reminded of the way Franca Rame reimagined, for example, Eve’s story, assigning her a significantly more dynamic and incisive role in the Genesis story.

The evening closed with well-known actor Lucia Vasini performing an excerpt from Sesso? Si grazie, tanto per gradire.  (Sex? Thanks. Don’t mind if I do) from 1994. Drawing on a book by their son, Iacopo Fo, Zen e l’arte di scopare (Zen and the Art of Fucking), Rame and Fo created a hilarious satire on attitudes towards sexuality and eroticism, against a backdrop of Catholic Italy.

Lucia Vasini immediately got the audience on her side, casting them in the role of people taking part in a kind of group therapy. Without ever becoming vulgar, she touches on multiple questions, such as virginity, impotency, frigidity, orgasm. As she vividly reenacted how she is used to faking an orgasm, without her partner ever noticing, she had the audience in stiches.

In the end though the play aims, like the rest of Rame-Fo’s work, to entertain while making people think. In this case, Franca Rame was adamant that good sexual relationships, without taboos, were fundamental if we want to create a more ethical and peaceful society. Seeing the many revivals of Franca Rame’s work not just in Italy but elsewhere, Pensando Franca proved another important reminder that her legacy is still going strong.