We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!
Intiman Theater’s 2013 summer theater festival season kicks off with Dario Fo’s "We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!" translated from the original Italian by Ron Jenkins and directed by Jane Nichols. Last year Intiman rose from the financial struggles of recent years with a new vision of performing summer theater with a repertory company, which continues this season with four plays performed by the same group of actors over the course of the summer.
"We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!" premiered in 1974 and centers around the financial struggles of two couples: Giovanni and Antonia; and Margherita and Luigi. Antonia (Tracy Michelle Hughes) is just returning from a trip to the grocery store where she was swept up in a spontaneous uprising of women, who, struggling to make ends and unable to pay for food, determine en masse to take whatever food they want without paying for it. Still exhilarated from the experience, she runs into her friend Margherita (Kylee Rousellot) who helps her carry her contraband groceries home.
When she sees her husband Giovanni (Burton Curtis) coming home, Antonia flies into a panic to hide the food, knowing that her honest husband would disapprove. She and Margherita race to hide everything under the kitchen table, with Margherita shoving the remainder down the front of her coat.
When Giovanni arrives he is surprised by what seems to be Margherita’s sudden pregnancy and when he wants dinner Antonia presents him with the only groceries still out in sight: cat food, canary seed and rabbit heads (also intended as pet food.)
Antonia’s explanations becomes ever more convoluted and ridiculous as Giovanni questions her about the odd food. The arrival of the police in various forms, all played by Adam Sandley, and Margherita’s husband Luigi (G. Valmont Thomas) add even more absurdity with the police searching for stolen food that Giovanni is convinced doesn’t exist and Luigi startled to find out he is becoming a father.
Director Jane Nichols notes that Dario Fo as a writer of political farce is known for "scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden." Based on that description, I went into this show expecting something a little different from what I got. Political farce is a challenge, based in a particular culture and a particular time.
Written in the ’70s and in Italian, I suspect something has been lost in the translation across both time and culture, and any real point to the political commentary was lost on me. As a political play, "We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!" never really gives us anything to sink our teeth into, and when the humor is merely verbal sparring, it’s just not all that funny.
That didn’t stop me from being completely diverted and entertained by the broad physical humor of the show. Adam Standley, who plays a police officer, a state trooper, an undertaker and Giovanni’s father in quick succession, absolutely steals the show. At one point he switches back and forth between the undertaker, conversing with Luigi and Giovanni about his coffin, and the State Trooper, knocked out and hanging in the closet, so many times that he begins shooting pleading conspiratorial glances at the audience each time he has to switch.
Other examples of marvelous physical comedy abound. Luigi, Giovanni and the state trooper participate in the best and funniest chase scene I’ve ever seen in a play. Standley is one of a pair of state troopers (with Skylar Tatro in a non-speaking role)and together they create a wild Keystone Cops feeling with their deadpan expressions, drooping mustaches, stereotypical posturing and easily derailed investigations. Margherita must occasionally hide the various food items that fall out of her supposedly pregnant belly, which she does with great aplomb.
I only wish that kind of broad but intelligent slapstick humor had been present throughout the entire show. However, with its period Pepto Bismol pink set designed by Jennifer Zeyl, dramatic lighting by Andrew D. Smith and marvelous music, there’s enough of the humor that works delightfully well to make it worth the trip.
"We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!" runs through Aug. 28 at Intiman Theatre, 201 Mercer St. in Seattle. For info or tickets, call 206-441-7178 or visit www.intiman.org.