Is the Maniac really mad?
Although the Maniac has been diagnosed with an "acting mania," his madness is merely a theatrical device. As an outsider, he sees the world differently than others and is thereby able to access hidden truths. Some might argue that the Maniac's passion for impersonation and deceiving others makes him mad, yet one could counter-argue that it is the Inspector and the Superintendent, so eager to believe the Maniac's lies if it serves their own interests, who are truly mad.
How and why does Fo use the alienation effect?
The alienation effect, also known as the distancing effect, prevents the audience from identifying too closely with the characters or getting immersed in the storyline. One way Fo does this is by having characters speak directly to the audience. The Maniac does this as he tries on different types of judge personas, as does the Superintendent when he calls upon his "informants" seated in the audience to identify themselves. In this way Fo breaks the illusion of the "fourth wall," the imaginary barrier between actors and audience. Another technique is to include self-reflexive strategies, in which the play refers to itself as a play. The Maniac tells the audience that the Superintendent's "informants" are only drama students, and he likewise comments upon himself as an actor. By using these techniques, Fo undermines dramatic catharsis and entertainment value. He hopes to inspire his audience to think critically, engage in debate and consider different points of view.
How does the translator make the play relevant to British audiences?
The translator uses idiomatic language and slang such as tosspot, bird-witted ponce, and piss-taking in order to appeal to the British non-elite. He also modified some cultural references, which maintains Fo's desire for the audience to think critically about the corruption or political machinations around them. For example, he has the Maniac ask if the Superintendent used to run a mercenary outfit in Bosnia, whereas in the original he asked if he ran an anti-fascist camp in the south of Italy. Similarly, the many scandals the Maniac names at the end of Act II were modified to appeal to British audiences.
What kind of corruption does Fo target in the play?
First and foremost, Fo targets corruption within the police force. The play brings to light the blatant lies told about the anarchist's case by the police, as well as questionable interrogation tactics such as the use of "psychological warfare" and, most likely, physical abuse. Fo also brings up the government's "strategy of tension", in which fascist or paramilitary groups engage in terrorist attacks that are blamed on far-left organizations. Finally, while he does not directly target the church, his choice of the Maniac's third disguise (the bishop) alludes to his belief that the church, too, is a source of hypocrisy and corruption.
In what ways does the play follow the Italian theatre tradition of commedia dell'arte?
In commedia dell'arte, a theatre tradition popular from the mid-16th to the mid-18th centuries, actors were at the heart of the playmaking process, improvising lines rather than precisely following a script. The sketches or scenes contained primarily of stock characters wearing masks depicting their archetype, the most celebrated of which was the Harlequin, or trickster. Fo, too, adapted his script often, changing lines in response to audience reactions or current events. Though most were based on real people, the play's roles are caricatures of sorts, given only non-specific names such as "Inspector", "Superintendent", or "Journalist". The Maniac is an updated version of the Harlequin, both a trickster who deceives the policemen through disguise and manipulation of language, and a clown whose ludicrous actions inspire raucous laughter. And, each of the Maniac's disguises could be considered a mask.
What kind of humor does Fo use and why?
Fo uses bawdy and slapstick humor as it appeals to all audiences - not just the elite. Bawdy humor is based on bodily functions, like when the Maniac pretends that Bertozzo has farted (blown a raspberry). Slapstick humor involves tripping, falling or mild, exaggerated violence, without any lasting harm. An example is when the Inspector punches Bertozzo in the face, thinking he had been making fun of him. Bertozzo is often at the receiving end of slapstick humor, as the others kick, slap, and gag him to keep him from revealing the Maniac's identity. These antics undercut the seriousness of the play's message, subverting the audience's expectations and engaging them.
What are Fo's views on revolution, as expressed by the Maniac?
Fo is an advocate of revolution, which involves a radical restructuring of society and its institutions. Like others on the far left, he sees reforms as mere band-aids, incapable of bringing about real change. The Maniac expresses this view in his discourse about scandals, explaining that scandals allow the government to placate the public through small reforms (or the promise of such reforms) without actually doing anything of value. In fact, the people in power often manipulate scandals to distract the public and ensure that fundamental change does not occur.
What kind of symbolism is present in the Maniac's disguise as Captain Mark Weeny?
The Maniac's fake eye, hand, and leg all symbolize the lies embraced by the policemen. The eye may symbolize the idea that people are willing to "see" whatever they want if it benefits them. The fact that it pops out when the Inspector slaps the Maniac on the back suggests such lies are tenuous and easily dislodged. Similarly, the Maniac's wooden hand comes off two times when shaken by one of the policemen. Their eagerness to grasp on to the Maniac may symbolize their readiness to embrace the lies; yet again, such lies easily come undone. By replacing the wooden hand with a woman's hand, the Maniac implies how easily one lie can be substituted for another. Finally, Bertozzo tries to undo the Maniac's false leg and thereby expose him for who he really is - leaving him quite literally with no leg to stand on. Yet there are many layers of falsehoods in both the Maniac's disguise and his words, and merely removing the disguises cannot undo the damage he has done in exposing the truth.
How does the play suggest that there are many layers of truth or reality?
The play slowly reveals new evidence to build our understanding of what likely happened the night of the anarchist's death. For instance, it first appears that the anarchist jumped out the window in desperation as a result of the incriminating lies told by the Inspector and his men. However, the introduction of additional evidence - bruises on the anarchist's neck, the timing of the ambulance call, the incongruity of having a window open in December - suggests he may not have committed suicide at all, but rather was killed or severely injured by a blow to the neck. The Inspector is still culpable, but in a more direct and sinister way. The Maniac's impersonations serve as a metaphor for these layers of truth, with each character believing they know his true identity - which serves as yet another layer of disguise.
How does Fo use the play to express his views on class oppression?
The Maniac touches upon this theme in his debate with the Journalist about the reliability of the three witnesses who confirmed the anarchist's alibi. The judge in the initial inquiry had dismissed the evidence of these witnesses as unreliable due to their age and likely disability. The Maniac points out that even if the judge's point is true and the witnesses' testimony cannot be trusted, it is because workers are so exploited that they cannot afford to take care of their health. At the same time, he implies that judges are prejudiced in that they evaluate witnesses' reliability based on apparent economic class.