Franca Rame, an Italian actress and playwright whose work — including mordant, highly charged critiques of the Italian government, the Roman Catholic Church and the status of women — was often done in collaboration with her husband, the Nobel Prize-winning playwright Dario Fo, died on Wednesday at her home in Milan. She was 83.
In a statement on Wednesday, President Giorgio Napolitano of Italy invoked her “passionate civil commitment” and “the continuity of her contribution” to the country’s cultural life. Ms. Rame’s death was also commemorated with a moment of silence in the Italian Parliament, in which she served from 2006 to 2008.
Over six decades of personal, professional and political partnership, Mr. Fo, who received the 1997 Nobel Prize in Literature, and Ms. Rame (pronounced RAH-may) wrote a series of well-known plays credited to them jointly. Among them are “A Woman Alone” and “Tutta Casa, Letto e Chiesa” (“It’s All Bed, Board and Church”), a constellation of feminist monologues.
But by all accounts, their collaboration was so close, and so seamless, that in most cases even pieces credited exclusively to one or the other — including Mr. Fo’s masterworks “Mistero Buffo” (“Comic Mystery”), “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” and “We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!,” along with many of Ms. Rame’s feminist plays — bear the stamp of both.
“It is actually colossally difficult to establish exactly what works she did write herself,” Joseph Farrell, Mr. Fo’s British translator, said in an interview on Wednesday. “It was an utterly unique partnership. He did by far the majority of the writing and then submitted it to her, and she was the critic. Irrespective of whether it came out as ‘The Theater of Dario Fo’ or ‘The Theater of Dario Fo and Franca Rame,’ that’s the way it was.”
Blond, expressive and impassioned, Ms. Rame, the daughter of a centuries-old theatrical family, had the look of a 1950s Italian bombshell. But she was a bombshell by way of Karl Marx, renowned for her long advocacy of leftist causes and for her performances of her own unbridled, often ribald monologues about sexual politics.
Ms. Rame’s political work, and that of her husband, made them the target of opprobrium, and even violence, at home and twice kept them from performing in the United States.
In 1980, and again in 1983, the State Department denied them visas, partly because of their involvement with Soccorso Rosso (Red Aid), a group Ms. Rame helped found, which assisted families of leftists imprisoned for politically motivated crimes.
Later granted visas, the couple appeared in 1986 at the Joyce Theater in Manhattan, Ms. Rame in “Tutta Casa” and Mr. Fo in “Mistero Buffo.”
Ms. Rame’s stage pieces were not so much plays as they were engagements with the audience, combining direct address with performance in a 20th-century spin on the art of Italian strolling players. While American critics sometimes found her ideas dogmatic, she remained renowned in her homeland and elsewhere — “Italy’s leading actress this side of Hollywood,” as the British newspaper The Guardian called her in 1992.
“Franca Rame was a theatrical sorceress,” Ronald S. Jenkins, Mr. Fo’s American translator, wrote in an e-mail on Wednesday. “Whether she was telling stories in her kitchen or performing for thousands, she could cast spells that elicited tears, laughter or thoughtful indignation. Working onstage with her as a simultaneous translator was an impossible delight, like trying to find the words to translate Euripides, Goldoni, Brecht and Mae West all improvising next to me at once.”
Ms. Rame often acted in works by her husband, and he did likewise in hers. They appeared together in pieces including “The Open Couple,” a one-act comedy by both of them based on their marriage.
Her work was also performed by other actors, notably Estelle Parsons, who in 1983 starred in “Orgasmo Adulto Escapes From the Zoo,” a set of monologues on women’s lives, at the Public Theater in New York.
Despite the difficulty of teasing apart the couple’s tight collaborative weave, several pieces, Mr. Farrell noted, are indisputably Ms. Rame’s alone. The most famous of them is “The Rape,” a searing monologue she wrote after her own abduction, rape and torture by rightist thugs in the 1970s.
Franca Rame was born on July 18, 1929, in Parabiago, outside Milan. Her theatrical lineage stretched back at least to the 18th century: originally puppeteers, her family became stage actors after the advent of cinema, with which they realized they could not compete.
Franca made her theatrical debut at the age of eight days, in the arms of her mother, and remained onstage to the end of her life. She met Mr. Fo in the early 1950s, when both were acting in a Milanese theater troupe. They married in 1954 and four years later founded their own troupe, the Dario Fo-Franca Rame Theater Company.
Ms. Rame’s survivors include Mr. Fo and their son, Jacopo.
In 1973, in reprisal for the couple’s political activities, Ms. Rame was abducted at gunpoint from a Milan street by a group of neo-Fascist men. She was raped, cut with razor blades and burned with cigarettes before being released.
A judicial inquiry in 1998 determined that the attack had been carried out at the behest of the Italian police. But by then, the statute of limitations precluded anyone’s being charged.
Though Ms. Rame spoke of her kidnapping immediately after it happened, for years she did not tell anyone, including her husband, that she had also been raped. Then, one day in the late 1970s, during one of her discursive one-woman shows, the story spontaneously emerged, surprising even her.
Ms. Rame worked the torrent of words into “The Rape,” an anguished, unsparing monologue about the attack, which she subsequently performed many times.
In 2006, representing the Italy of Values Party, Ms. Rame was elected to the Italian Senate. She resigned two years later, citing what she described as the strain of confronting an immova
ble political system.
Over the years, some observers, aware of Ms. Rame’s deep impress on Mr. Fo’s work, suggested that the Nobel should have been awarded to them jointly.
“Perhaps it should have been given to the two of them,” Mr. Farrell said on Wednesday. “She used to joke about the fact that Dario was a monument and that she was the pedestal under the monument. Which was an awkward situation, she would say.”
Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting from Rome.