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Three years ago and 4,300 miles away, Dr. Michael Chiariello saw something he believed the St. Bonaventure University community would cherish as much as he did.
So the longtime philosophy professor decided it couldn’t hurt to ask. He invited Italian stage actor Mario Pirovano to St. Bonaventure to perform his highly acclaimed one-man interpretation of “Francis, The Holy Jester,” written by Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo.
Chiariello never imagined what the invitation would launch: a two-month tour of the U.S. and Canada that begins with the North American premiere of “Holy Jester” on Tuesday, Oct. 2, at St. Bonaventure’s Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts.
The 7:30 p.m. public performance is free, but seating is limited. Pirovano, who is spending a week at St. Bonaventure working with classes and faculty as part of the university’s annual Francis Week celebration, will also perform for students at 3 p.m. on Oct. 2 in the Quick Center.
Pirovano has toured Great Britain, Australia, Scandinavia and Africa with “Holy Jester” — and to rave reviews.
“This production is the most entertaining and funny history lesson you could hope to see, given a captivating performance by the charismatic Pirovano,” wrote critic David Chadderton of the British Theatre Guide.
Chiariello is director of the university’s Franciscan Heritage Program, a semester-long study abroad program in Umbria, Italy.
“I saw an Italian performance in Perugia in 2009 and I was awed by the power of the text and Mario’s passionate performance,” said Chiariello. “When I learned that it had been translated into English, I arranged a performance for our study abroad students and visiting faculty. I decided right then that we had to bring Mario and ‘Francesco’ to SBU and America.” (“Lu Santu Jullare Francesco” is the Italian name of the play.)
Chiariello asked Pirovano if he’d perform “Holy Jester” in English for his Umbra Institute students, and the actor obliged. When the performance was warmly received by students and faculty, Chiariello invited Pirovano to perform at St. Bonaventure.
“What I have learned from Mario and Dario is the extraordinary power the figure of Francis exercises over the hearts and minds of Italians today,” said Chiariello, who was befriended by both Pirovano and Fo. “This applies not just to religious Catholics, but to Italians who are otherwise indifferent, if not hostile, to the established church. Everyone seems to have a different, but personally significant, idea of Francis and his meaning.”
Chiariello hopes that Pirovano’s visit will heighten awareness about “the depth of the university’s connection to Italy.”
“Of course, Francis, forever vital and relevant, is the bridge,” Chiariello said. “I hope through our study abroad program, and events such as Mario’s visit, to make the campus more mindful of — and energized by — this extraordinary living heritage.”
“Francis, the Holy Jester” is based on several episodes from the life of Saint Francis often unknown or overlooked, but which are, according to Fo, “drawn from authentic texts and from ancient folk tales of the Umbrian countryside.” Fo’s Francis is portrayed as a medieval jester using elements of irony, humor, physical movement and song to convey his Gospel message.
“Holy Jester”is a one-man show, without props, without scenery and with the simplest costume creating an intimate relation between audience and performer. Pirovano often interacts with the audience during his performance, Chiariello said.
A range of characters from 13th-century Italy is brought to life — popes and cardinals, dukes and duchesses, soldiers on the battlefield, traders in the marketplace and Francis himself.
Pirovano reconstructs several episodes from the life of Francis, including his sermon in Bologna, his visit to Pope Innocent III, his encounter with the wolf of Gubbio, and his death, all performed with humor, passion and extraordinary energy.
Pirovano is not only the most proven interpreter of the theater of Dario Fo, but also an impassioned and tireless advocate of the style and language that have made Fo famous throughout the world and earned him the 1997 Nobel Prize for Literature.
Pirovano’s visit is sponsored by the Franciscan Heritage Semester Study Abroad Program, the Franciscan Heritage Council, SBU’s theater program, School of Arts and Sciences, Clare College, and Kay and JohnMeisch, class of 1958. Additional support is provided by the Quick Center for the Arts, and the Franciscan Friary of St. Bonaventure University.
To complement Pirovano’s visit, a series of eight stunning reproductions of Fo’s Francis-themed art is now on display on the second floor of the Quick Center through Oct. 2.
Pirovano’s stops after St. Bonaventure include the universities of Rochester, Florida, Michigan, Oregon, Seattle, Truman State (Mo.), Washington (Mo.), and Wayne State (Mich.), and Fordham, Clemson, Harvard, and Princeton universities. He will also perform in Toronto for a week in November.
About the University: Inspired for more than 150 years by the Catholic Franciscan values of individual dignity, community inclusiveness, and service, St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them
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