'Johan Padan' Cuts with Wit even as Festival Cut Short

A.R.T. Showcases Nobel Laureate

Like all great critics of capitalism, he is a dedicated materialist—dedicated, that is, to the joy of the material world. He takes immense pleasure in the shape, texture, taste, smell and mere existence of things. Nowhere is Fo more at home than in his exuberant account of the physical world. So deep is his love for all things physical that the idea of property seems repulsive—simply to experience the world should be joy enough.

Never would Fo subjugate his work, though, to the blunt expression of such a moral message—no one knows better than a jester that to preach is to lose one’s audience. His worldview is made clear, rather, by the aesthetic that permeates his work.

Thomas Derrah, the actor who brings Fo’s work to life in this production at the A.R.T., understands this. Taking the performances of Fo himself as a model, Derrah and director Ron Jenkins have put entertainment first and politics second in their Johan Padan.

If he didn’t speak a word, Derrah’s ebullient gestures would be enough to entertain an audience. In addition to his movements, though, Derrah tells Fo’s story with the passion and commitment of a true believer in the power of comedy.

Derrah acts the clown who knows what sadness is but refuses to be overwhelmed by it. He is not convinced that laughter is a medicine, but he knows that it’s at least a salve. It is something to help navigate through a terrible world, even if cannot make it better.


Unfortunately, recent events have grown too terrible even for the king of all jesters. Johan Padan was supposed to be the beginning of a three-part festival celebrating Dario Fo’s stage career; he and his long-time collaborator Franca Rame had scheduled a return to the A.R.T. for performances of Mistero Buffo and Sex? Thanks, Don’t Mind If I Do. Now, however, those performances have been canceled.

Fo and Rame have themselves declared their satirical works unfit for the current climate in America and around the world. The two admit that they have performed in times of crisis and of mourning before as part of their commitment to political theater; but then, their works were born from those events and told their stories.

Now, even a man best known for his persistent vociferousness, has declared that it is a time for silence.