Italian showman Benigni brings Dante to America

Mon May 25, 2009 1:22am EDT
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By Claudia Parsons

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A one-man show about Italian poet Dante Alighieri may not sound like a bundle of laughs but when the man doing it is Roberto Benigni, famous for his exuberant antics after winning an Oscar, it won't be a snooze.

The show, "TuttoDante" (All Dante), takes as its starting point the poet's greatest work, "The Divine Comedy," a medieval allegory in which Dante travels down through the circles of hell, emerges in purgatory and eventually ascends to paradise.

"I'm not a professor, I'm a showman," Benigni said in an interview a few days before making his U.S. stage debut with the show on Tuesday. "Don't expect notes or a commentary."

"TuttoDante" is part stand-up comedy and part performance of the fifth canto of the poem, in which Dante meets famous lovers from history who were brought low by lust. The show has been a hit in Italy as well as Paris, Athens and London.

Benigni will take it to San Francisco, New York, Montreal, Boston, Toronto, Quebec City, Chicago and Buenos Aires in the coming weeks.

A long-standing celebrity at home in Italy, Benigni won world acclaim with the tragicomic 1998 Holocaust film "Life Is Beautiful," which he directed and starred in. Benigni won an Academy Award for best actor and the movie was chosen best foreign film.

Known for his slapstick comedy and political satire, he brought a fresh touch to the often stuffy Oscars ceremony when he climbed on the back of his seat in excitement after he was told he had won an Oscar.

Benigni said childlike exuberance is in his nature -- and he wasn't just climbing on his seat, he was trying to fly.   Continued...

<p>Italian director and actor Roberto Benigni is shown in this file photo. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz</p>