Marriage at Cana

Dario Fo • Mistero Buffo
THE MARRIAGE AT CANA

Introduction

In the nineteenth century an Englishman by name of Smith published a book containing illustrations of a number of Italian religious festivals. This, for example, (photo 10) is a picture of a rite which is still performed in Sicily to this day--in Piana dei Greci, to be precise. Here we see Christ's entry into Jerusalem--you can see him here under the palm branches, surrounded by revellers.

The scene reminds one of Bacchus-Dionysus's descent into hell. Dionysus was a Greek god of Thessalo-Minoan origin, dating from some fifteen centuries before Christ.


Photo 10. "Palm Sunday". Popular print (19th century)

It is said that he so loved mankind that when a demon came to earth and stole the springtime (in order to carry it off to hell and enjoy it all for himself), Dionysus decided to sacrifice himself on mankind's behalf: he mounted a mule, went down to hell, and paid with his own life in order that humanity might have their spring back.

Anyway, fifteen centuries later we find Jesus Christ, coming to earth as a god and seeking to give mankind back their spring. That springtime was, as I have said, man's dignity--a theme that we shall return to later, in another of the pieces I shall perform. And at the heart of the Jesus story we find traces of Bacchus, the god of happiness--of drunkenness even--a jolly, boisterous kind of god.

There is, by the way, nothing unusual about this grafting of one god onto another; it is a familiar characteristic of popular religions.

So, the key character in this jongleur piece is a drunkard. He tells how he went to a wedding feast, and got drunk on wine that had been made by, actually created by, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ becomes Bacchus; at a certain point he is even shown standing on a table and addressing the wedding guests: "Enjoy yourselves, people; get drunk; have a good time." The important thing is to be happy. Don't wait for heaven after you die, because heaven can be here on earth too. Exactly the opposite of what they ram down your throats when you're kids... that you have to suffer on earth... that it's a vale of tears... that not everybody can be rich, because some people are destined to be poor, and anyway your reward will come in heaven... so relax, and behave yourselves, and don't kick up a fuss... That's more or less the line of argument.

The philosophy that Jesus puts forward in this jongleur piece is quite the opposite. He says: "Get drunk, people... Go ahead, let yourselves go!"

This piece actually involves two characters: the drunkard and an angel. While the angel--or rather the archangel--tries to present the prologue of a religious performance piece, within the traditional style of the genre, the drunkard is bent on mischief. He wants to interrupt the show and tell of how he got magnificently drunk at the Marriage at Cana. The angel speaks in an aristocratic, elegant, polished Venetian dialect; the drunkard on the other hand speaks in a strong rustic dialect that is crude and highly coloured. I perform this as a solo piece, but not because I'm an exhibitionist: we tried performing it with two actors, but we found it didn't work. You see, almost all these texts were written to be performed by one person. The jongleurs almost always worked on their own; we can see this from the fact that, in the text, things that happen tend to be indicated by the actor splitting himself between two parts, and by allusion, so that the full comic and poetic weight of the piece is heightened by the free play of imagination.

In this piece, you have to use your imagination. Not like when you're watching TV: in order to save you straining your brain, they feed you all the details, all the particulars, and you just sit there, mind half asleep... maybe have a little nap, maybe fart a bit... and the next day you're all fresh and ready for work, all ready to be exploited again.

So: when I'm on this side of the stage (He points to stage left) I shall be tbe angel, with his fine, aristocratic gestures; when I am over there (He points to stage right) I shall be the drunkard.

[For as long as the angel is on stage, the image in photo 11 is projected onto the backdrop.]


Photo 11: A Cimabue angel from Assisi (late 14th century)


ANGEL: (To the audience) Pay attention, kind people, and I shall tell you of a true story, a story which began--

DRUNKARD: I would like to tell you a story too, about a drinking session, a glorious binge...

ANGEL: Drunkard!

DRUNKARD: I want to tell you...

ANGEL: Silence... Not a word!

DRUNKARD: But I--

ANGEL: Silence... I am the one who's supposed to give the prologue! (To the audience) Kind people, everything that we are going to tell you will be true, utterly true, and is all taken from books and from the Gospels. Nothing resented here is created from--

DRUNKARD: I want to tell a story too, and mine is not imaginary either. I have just been on such a magnificent bender, such a binge, that never again do I ever want to get drunk again, lest I forget how magnificent it was. It was a bender like you've...

ANGEL: Drunkard!

DRUNKARD: I would like to tell...

ANGEL: No... You're not telling anything... Alright?!

DRUNKARD: Ah, but... I...

ANGEL: Ssssh!

DRUNKARD: But I... No?

ANGEL: Kind people, everything that we are going to tell you is wholly true. Everything comes from books, and from the Gospels. The little imaginary material that we have added...

DRUNKARD: (Very quietiy) I'll tell you about my wonderful binge afterwards...

ANGEL: Hey! Drunkard!

DRUNKARD:I wasn't doing anything... I only moved my finger.

ANGEL: Well don't move your finger!

DRUNKARD: But I don't make any noise with my finger!

ANGEL: You're making a noise... Brrrr!

DRUNKARD: How can I make a noise with my finger?! Alright! I'll do it with my brain... I shall think and think and think, and with my eyes... And they will understand...

ANGEL: No.

DRUNKARD: But I don't make any noise with my brain...

ANGEL: You do make a noise!

DRUNKARD: I make a noise with my brain? Heavens above! I must really be drunk! Holy Mary!

ANGEL: Don't breathe!

DRUNKARD: What, aren't I allowed to breathe? Not even through my nose? I shall burst!

ANGEL: Burst, then!

DRUNKARD: Ah, but if I burst, then I'll make a noise, eh?

ANGEL: Ssssh... !

DRUNKARD: But I...

ANGEL: Everything of what we are about to tell you is true, everything has come from books and from the Gospels. The little imaginary material that we have added...

The DRUNKARD creeps up on the ANGEL and pulls out one of his feathers.

DRUNKARD: (Very quietly, miming making the feather fly) Oh, what a pretty coloured feather!

ANGEL: Drunkard!

DRUNKARD: (He starts, and mimes swallowing the feather. He coughs) Eh... But...

ANGEL: Ssssh... !

DRUNKARD: Eh... But I... no...

ANGEL: Everything that we are going to tell you will be entirely true; everything comes from books and from the Gospels... (The DRUNKARD creeps up on the ANGEL aguin, and pulls out other feathers. He mimes admiring them. He fans himself and struts about. The ANGEL notices) Drunkard!

DRUNKARD: Eh... ? (Throwing the feathers in the air) It's snowing!

ANGEL: Will you kindly leave the stage?!

DRUNKARD: I wouid quite willingly leave, if you wouid care to accompany me, because I am not capable of putting one foot in front of the other without falling down and banging my nose on the ground... If you wouid be so good as to accompany me, then I shall tell you about this beautiful drinking session I had...

ANGEL: I am not interested in your drinking session... Out! Out, or I shall kick you off the stage!

DRUNKARD: Ah? You'll kick me off?

ANGEL: Yes, I'll kick you off... Get out of here!

DRUNKARD: Kind people! Did you hear that? An angel who wants to kick me out... Me! An angel... (Aggressively, turning to the ANGEL) Come on, then, my big angel... Come and kick me off if you dare! Because I'll pull out all your feathers, like plucking a chicken! I shall pull out your feathers one by one, from your backside too... from your arse... Come on, my big chicken... Come on!

ANGEL: Help... Don't touch me! Help! Murderer... !

He flees.

DRUNKARD: Me, murderer? Did you hear that? He called me a murderer! I, who am so good that goodness pours out of my ears... and spills all over the floor, and you could almost slip on it... And how could I not be good, after that wonderful drinking session that I've been on? You know, I never imagined that today was going to end up so beautifully, because it began so wretchedly and miserably. ..

You see, I was invited to a wedding, a marriage, in a place near here, called Cana... Cana... In fact, in days to come they're going to talk of it: the Marriage at Cana. I was invited, as I say... I arrived, and there was all the whole table ready for the wedding feast, with all the food arranged on it... and nobody had sat down to eat yet. They were all standing up, and stamping around the place, and cursing.

There was the bride's mother. She was crying... There was the bride's father. He was banging his head against the wall, in a foul mood.

'But what's happened, what's happened?' I asked.

'Oh the shame of it...'

'Has the groom run off?'

'The groom is that fellow over there, swearing more than anyone.'

'Well, then, what's happened?'

'Oh the shame of it... We've just found out that an entire vat of wine, a barrel of wine that was prepared especially for the wedding banquet, has all turned to vinegar. We're in a right pickle!'

'Oh. Oh... All the wine turned to vinegar! How terrible! I've heard it said that a rained-on bride is supposed to be a lucky bride, but being rained on by vinegar would make her the kind of bad luck you'd want to keep away from'

And everyone was crying and cursing, and the bride's mother was tearing her hair, and the bride was crying, and the bride's father was banging his head against the wall.

At that moment, a young fellow turned up, a certain Jesus, the one they've nicknamed... the 'Son of God'. And he wasn't alone, no! He was accompanied by his mother, whom they call the Madonna. A fine figure of a woman!!!

They had been invited, and had turned up just a little late.

Anyway, when this Mrs Madonna found out what a state everything was in, what with the wine being turned into vinegar and all, she went over to her son Jesus, son of God (and also of the Madonna) and said: 'You, my son, who are so good you who do such wonderful things for everybody see if you can manage to get these poor people out of the mess they're in.'

No sooner had the Madonna spoken to him, than all of a sudden everyone saw a sweet, sweet smile spread across Jesus' lips. His smile was so sweet that if you didn't watch out, it would make your kneecaps fall off and drop on your toes! What a sweet smile! When she finished talking, this young fellow gave his mother a kiss on the nose and said: 'Kind people, could I have twelve buckets full of good clean water?'

In a flash, twelve buckets arrived, full of water, and when I saw all that water all together at the same time, I felt a bit queasy. I felt like I was drowning, by heaven! Everyone fell silent, almost like being in church for the Sanctus, and this Jesus twirled his hands about a bit, snapping his fingers, and began to make signs over the water, the kind of signs that only sons of God make. I was standing a little bit away from the scene, because, as I said before, looking at water makes me nervous, and I wasn't even looking. I was just leaning to one side, all sad, and all of a sudden I caught a whiff in my nostrils of a smell that was unmistakably the aroma of crushed grapes...

You couldn't mistake it, it was wine! Heavens, what wine. They passed me a cup of it, and I put it to my lips and swallowed a drop. Heavens! Oh Oh Ye blessed in purgatory, what a wine! I had no sooner swallowed it when I got the taste; a bit bitter at the back, a bit sharp, almost spicy in the middle; it sent out a deep red sparkle, a glow, a wine without mould or froth, a wine of at least three years standing, a golden vintage! And it slips down your gullet, gurgles down to your stomach, spreads out a little, stays there for a bit, and then, wallop, comes rolling up again, up your gullet, in great waves, and the flavour hits your nostrils and spreads forth. A wine to stop a man in his tracks even if he were passing on a race-horse!

'It's spring,'he shouted. What a wine! And everyone began to clap Jesus. 'Well done, Jesus! You're divine!'

And the Madonna! The Madonna, his mother, was beside herself with happiness and pride at having a son who was so clever in bringing forth wine from water. Within a very short time we were all drunk. There was the bride's mother, dancing; the bride was in festive mood too; the bridegroom was leaping about; the bride's father was still in front of the wall, in a wicked mood, banging his head against it... because nobody had told him!

Jesus got up on a table, and began pouring wine for everybody: 'Drink, good people, be happy, get drunk, don't save it till later, enjoy yourselves!'

And then, all of a sudden, he remembered his mother: 'Oh holy mother! Oh Madonna! Mother, I forgot, excuse me! Here, here's a drop for you too; drink a bit yourself.'

'No, no thank you, my son, thanks all the same, but I cannot drink, because I am not used to wine. It makes my head spin, and afterwards I start saying silly things.'

'But no, mother, it can't do you any harm. It will only make you a bit happy! This wine can't do you any harm; it's a pure wine, this, a good wine... I made it myself!'

And just imagine, there are still some damoed rabble going around saying that wine is a creation of the devil, and that it's a sin, and that it's an invention of the most diabolical order. But do you think that if wine had really been an invention of the devil, that Jesus would have given some to his mother to drink? To his very own mother? Because Jesus had so much love for his mother that even I don't have for all the grappa in this world! I'm sure that if God the Father, in person, instead of leaving it so late when he taught Noah this wonderful trick of crushing the grape and bringing forth wine, if instead, right from the start, he had taught Adam, even before Eve, then we wouldn't be in this wretched state of a world that we are in now. We would all be in Paradise! Your health! Because on that wretched day when the wicked serpent came to visit Adam with the apple in his mouth, and told him: 'Eat the apple, Adam! It's sweet and good... Apples are sweet and red!!', then all it needed was for Adam to have a good big glass of wine near him, and... whoosh... he would have given a good kick to every apple on earth, and we would all be happy in Paradise!

That was the dreadful sin, because fruit was not created to be eaten, but to be trodden and crushed; because from crushed apples you make a good cider; from crushed cherries you make good sweet grappa; and as for the grape, it would be a mortal sin to eat it! Because with the grape, you make wine. And I am sure that those who have been good and honest in their lives... for them, Heaven is going to be made all of wine!

What do you mean, that's blasphemy? No, I am not blaspheming! You know, I dreamt once that I was dead. One night I had a dream that I had died, and I dreamt that they came to take me away. They took me to a terrible place, where there were a lot of deep basins, and inside each basin there stood one of the damned - poor souls! They were submerged, standing up in a great sea of red liquid, which looked like blood. And I immediately began to cry: 'Oh God! I am in Hell!' Miserable wretch, sinner that I was! And while I was weeping, they took all my clothes off, and began to wash me, rubbing me down and cleaning me to such an extent, with hot and cold water, that I have never been so clean in all my life, not even at Easter!

Once I was good and clean, they put me into one of those big basins, with its red liquid. Glug... glug... glug... And that red liquid rose up to my lips. I shut my mouth, but one of the ripples... splosh... came back at me... and went up my nose. Ooof! And I swallowed a great gulp. I was in Paradise. . . !!! It was wine, and immediately I realised that this wonderful invention had been created by God the Father, especially for the Blessed (because everyone there was Blessed) so that the blessed ones would not have to make too much effort, in the sense of having to lift up their glasses to drink every time, and then have to wait for them to be filled again. Instead, he took all the blessed ones, and immersed them all, right up to their ears, in huge glasses of wine, standing there, so that it came up to their lips, and all they had to do was open their mouths to say: 'Good morning, gentlemen,' and... glug... And I began to sing: 'My beloved is so fickle...' Glug... glug... Help... I'm drowning... Glug... What a lovely way to drown!!! Glug... Glug... Glug... Glug...

 

Mistero Buffo translated by Ed Emery in Dario Fo Plays 1. Methuen Drama, London. 1992

 

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Italian Drama Workshop,
Oct 2, 2009, 7:42 AM
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