Mario Pirovano runs on an inexhaustable fuel called theater. During a recent tour stop in Boston, the 62-year-old Italian actor was busy setting the stage lights at the Dante Alighieri Society in Cambridge.
“How is that? Can you see my eyes? Too much shadow?”
With a slight British accent, Pirovano ran around the stage, already practicing the evening’s show: The first-ever U.S. performance of Dario Fo’s “Francis the Holy Jester.”
“The expression, it’s important, it’s all in the facial expression.” Pirovano grimaces, smiles, frowns and laughs — all in just a few seconds. They are all faces and masks he brings on stage while interpreting episodes from the life of St. Francis of Assisi.
“These stories have been overlooked or underestimated,” says Pirovano. “The whole story of Francis has been watered down, but we must remember that he lived in an incredible time of change in Italy, where powers were shifting quickly and the peninsula saw the birth of the first municipalities, the first attempts at democracy from below.”
Translated into English by Pirovano himself, the one-man show is a comedic piece in the traditional style of Nobel laureate Dario Fo.
“It’s a challenging, provocative type of theater,” says Pirovano. “It has to stimulate the centers of thought and push people to re-evaluate their beliefs.”
All of this is done through an acting style dear to Dario Fo, with whom Pirovano has worked for the past 30 years.
“It is an ancient style of storytelling,” says Pirovano.
This side of the saint is shown in “The Tirade of Francis in Bologna, 15th August 1222,” during which Pirovano interprets Francis speaking to the population of Bologna. Through subtle satyrical techniques, Francis is able to show the local population how terrible the ongoing war with Imola is, and how harmful the feuds between the city’s families have been.
Other parts of the show brought in the United States are Francis’ encounter with the wolf and the visit to Rome to meet with Pope Innocent III.
For over a month, Pirovano has been representing the show in various parts of the country, including New York, Chicago and Detroit. After an Italian Heritage Month-sponsored show on October 29 at the Dante Alighieri Society of Massachusetts, Pirovano will be back on stage at Harvard’s Farkas Hall Dance Studio on Monday, October 30.