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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Funnyman Takes on Dante’s ‘Comedy’

Roberto Benigni leapt up with a riff on the 26th Canto of Dante’s “Inferno,” in which fraudulent advisers are engulfed by flames that scorch them. “It’s like landing in Los Angeles or Manhattan, full of little lights like a skyscraper,” he exclaimed in his frenetically choppy English. “Dante describes the lights like fireflies, like a farmer who sees billions of fireflies. And every single firefly is hiding a fraud — people like Madoff. Very cunning, very shrewd. These people are hiding inside the flame because they are hiding in life. The Florentines, you know, they invented finances.”

The delivery is familiar: Mr. Benigni, of course, is the endearingly manic Italian comedian whose Holocaust tragicomedy, “Life Is Beautiful,” won three Oscars in 1999. But for Americans, at least, the subject of Mr. Benigni’s latest project is almost incongruously new. Next week he will begin a short North American tour of “TuttoDante,” a monologue about Dante’s “Divine Comedy” that mixes literary insights with off-the-cuff political jokes. In Italy, where he has been doing the show regularly for three years, it has drawn more than a million people.


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