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Diego Fabbri's Trial of Western Civilization Diego Fabbri's Trial of Western Civilization
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2007-12-21 09:30:22
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Abstract: Diego Fabbri's existential theater, passionately committed to the exploration of the human condition and the spirit of the age, is all but forgotten nowadays. That is unfortunate, for the theatrical production of Diego Fabbri (especially his summa: "Jesus on Trial") is still today vitally relevant to post-modern Man's self-knowledge, and the rediscovery of the cultural identity of Western civilization.

Last year I translated from the Italian into English a play by Diego Fabbri titled Processo a Gesù [Jesus on Trial]. It is due out in print in a couple of months. This is perhaps his best known work, originally performed in Milan on March 2, 1955. It might be hard to believe it, but in the 50s and 60s Fabbri became better known than Pirandello, not only in Italy but also abroad. At that time his above mentioned play was performed in Germany, Sweden, Austria, the USA, France, England, Spain, Australia, even Japan; it was eventually made into a movie in Spain. However, despite this early popularity Fabbri seems to have been all but forgotten. That is too bad, for he is even more relevant now to the predicaments of Western Civilization than he was fifty years ago.

Fabbri is one of those rare dramatists who, like Pirandello, is concerned with philosophical-ethical issues relating to the existential human condition. Some of his other plays are The Seducer, The Liar, Inquisition and Portrait of an Unknown. The mere titles of these plays hint at Fabbri's existential concerns. He was the kind of author who in Italian goes under the name of "impegnato" [committed].

The classical authors who greatly influenced Fabbri, as he himself revealed in his book of essays titled Christian Ambiguity (1954), are Dostoevsky, Cechov, Pirandello, Brecht, Plato, St. Augustine, Pascal, Kierkegaard, Kafka, Rilke, Berdiaev, Manzoni, as well as the contemporary French authors he was reading at the time the play made its debut: Andre Gide, Maurice Blondel, Jacques Riviere, Charles Péguy, Paul Claudel, Georges Bernanos, Francois Mauriac, Julien Green, Etienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain, Emmanuel Mounier. Enough to persuade anybody that Fabbri is not an esoteric elitist intellectual, (of either classical or modern tradition); on the contrary, he speaks the language of everyman and is concerned with the problems of Everyman.

The protagonists of his drama are mostly ordinary people who struggle with the great issues, "prosecuting charges," indictments, and ultimate problems of the human condition and destiny as lived today by post-modern Man who the more he distances himself from God, the more he feels Her/His absence, the more he searches for Her/Him through the labyrinthine byways of the spirit. In this respect, Jesus on Trial can be considered Fabbri's Summa.

And what is this play all about? It is really a modern trial, an in absentia trial of Jesus and to a certain extent of the ancient Jewish people by modern Jews. Paradoxically, as the trial progresses, we come to realize that it is in reality the trial of a decadent technological rationalistic civilization against itself; that is to say, the trial of a civilization that has lost the ability to hope in the future and to conceive salvation and redemption of any kind, a civilization , stuck in the horizontal (the immanent) and devoid of the vertical (the transcendent) and unable to conceive the two together as "both-and," often given to apocalyptic scenarios of its own future destiny. The play had that powerful effect on me personally as I translated it.

Behind this bleak assessment by Fabbri of the modern social phenomenon, there is Charles Péguy, an author who influenced Fabbri more than any other, and who had written that "Christianity is a life lived together so that we may save ourselves together." After reading the play one realizes that indeed while Pirandello is Fabbri's artistic inspiration, Charles Péguy is Fabbri's spiritual inspiration for the conception of an authentic Christian society: a society that finds its "raison d'etre" in communion and solidarity and is thus alone able to free Man from that deep solitude of spirit described by Vico as "the barbarism of the intellect" and afflicting post-modern Man in the third rationalistic cycle of Vico’s ideal eternal history.

As far as dramatic techniques are concerned Pirandello is undoubtedly present, behind the curtain, so to speak. He is there for the fundamental emotions and conflicts which are explored, for the conception of dialogue as a search for identity and truth, and for the stage returned to its original classical function of authentic place of drama, almost another protagonist. It was in fact this Pirandellian inspiration and conception of the drama as advertised by Fabbri that led to the rediscovery of Pirandello in Italy and abroad.

Fabbri's theater flows naturally into film. In the 60s and 70s he wrote manuscripts for the RAI Television which includes, among others, novels by Silone's among which Il Segreto di Luca, Greene's The End of the Affair, Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamozov and The Devils. However, Fabbri is no Dostoevsky, he remains uniquely himself hard to subsume under any other director. If one were to search for a kindred spirit to Fabbri among modern film directors, it would not be Fellini of Satyricon, but Bergman of The Seventh Seal.


    
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