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Usigli was born to an Italian father and a Polish mother in Mexico City. Usigli spent a year in the National Conservatory of Music before deciding that his real passion was theater. He studied drama at the Yale School of Drama from 1935-1936 on a Rockefeller scholarship, later becoming a professor and diplomat. It was during his time as a diplomat in 1945 that he met George Bernard Shaw in London. After returning to Mexico from the U.S., he established the Midnight Theater and also became a member of the literary circle that formed around the journal Contemporary. During the 1930s, he directed radio dramas.
In 1937, Usigli brought out his book, The Gesticulating Demagogues. The book's manuscript had been read by Shaw. The book attacked the social issues ravaging Mexico, such as misuse of power that the bureaucracy had got from the Revolution of 1910. The play was subsequently banned, raising Usigli's reputation.
In 1942 Usigli published yet another work of scathing quality. In Family Dinner at Home' his intended target were the apex strata of the Mexican social structure. Usigli experimented with crime fiction in the novel, Ensayo de un crimen (Rehearsal for a Crime), which in 1955 was adapted into a film, The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz, by Luis Buñuel. Usigli also wrote several essays on history, art and theater. He was also an occasional poet, writing modest but interesting poems.
The award-winning Usigli believed the objective of theatre was to tell the truth about society. He was known for his strong representation of women in plays.
Usigli designed strong female characters in several of his plays. Two of Usigli's protégées, Rosario Castellanos and Luisa Josefina Hernández, became important female voices on the Mexican stage. He was also a strong influence on his pupil Jorge Ibargüengoitia and on Josefina Niggli.
The Rodolfo Usigli Archive in the Walter Havighurst Special Collections at Miami University of Ohio is a repository of the papers of Rodolfo Usigli (1905-1979), Mexican playwright, essayist and diplomat. The Archive is the definitive research collection relating to Usigli’s life and career, including correspondence, both manuscript and typed drafts of original plays and translations of works by other artists, personal, theatrical, and diplomatic photographs, essays, books, playbills, posters, theses written about Usigli, awards, newspaper and magazine articles, memorabilia, and ephemera.
- Rodolfo Usigli website at Miami University of Ohio
- The Rodolfo Usigli Archive in the Walter Havighurst Special Collections at Miami University of Ohio
- "Rodolfo Usigli and George Bernard Shaw Finding Aid" (PDF). Retrieved 20 February 2014.
- "Rodolfo Usigli". Biographies & Lives. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
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