Mar 212016


Take Ten: Hanna Bondarewska


Hanna Bondarewska in the Ambassador Theater production of They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!.
Valentin Radev
In this week’s Take Ten, Hanna Bondarewska shares the passion that drives her work. For Dario Fo’s They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! – at the Ambassador Theater through March 26 - she worked closely with longtime Fo collaborator Mario Pirovano, and even Skyped with the playwright himself!

1) What was the first show you ever saw, and what impact did it have?

As far as I remember when I was probably 4 or 5 years old, I saw a children’s show, Hansel and Gretel, with my parents and I remember how involved I was in the whole story. To this day I can recall the role of a witch who scared me so much that I screamed and tried to warn Hansel and Gretel to run away from her. My parents always took me and my sister to see many performances in the theater and took us to the National Theater in Warsaw to watch famous operas and ballet shows. I remember watching all those performances with rosy cheeks and imagining myself on the stage among all the other actors and living in this imaginary world.

After watching all those performances, my sister and I were always imitating the parts we saw on stage at home or outside and we created our own shows.  Our home was also a home to many artists, including all of our family and friends. These gatherings were full of songs, poetry readings and dance. From the early days I started reciting poetry and singing, first, in front of our parents, family members and friends and then at school.  My parents were our most important critics. They were fabulous teachers who gave my sister and I, our first lessons on how to walk and talk properly. Honesty and imagination was a very big part of our early learning. I still remember walking with a stick under my arms, with a glass of water or books on my head. My granddad would teach me to curtsy, how to walk, sit like a lady, how to eat with a fork and knife and more. All those early lessons helped me significantly later in my education and my acting and directing career.

2) What was your first involvement in a theatrical production?

I started performing when I was in elementary school in all my school’s productions and as soon as I got to High School, I was already performing in a professional theater in Warsaw.  One of the most memorable performances was a huge historical performance in celebration of “1000 years of Sandomierz” in Poland, in which I acted as Queen Wanda amongst already well known professional actors. I felt I was on “cloud nine”. This was an unforgettable time of learning from all those professional actors and directors.  I was able to perform for an audience of thousands, who came to see this show.  I was a true queen going to a battle, carried by two strong soldiers, by my ankles complete in full armor. That was a true adventure, I had to learn a lot about the epoch, style, learn how to fence and keep my body straight while two actors were carrying me and running with me through the entire area full of hills and brick pavement.

3) What’s your favorite play or musical, and why do you like it so much?

Each play I ever acted in was very significant, requiring a lot of research and fun in transforming. But one I will never forget, was the role of Beatrice in Servant of Two Masters by Goldoni. I loved playing that role because it called for transforming Beatrice into a man and then back to a woman in a split of a second.  It was a fun comedy in commedia del arte style. I had to practice a lot of fun movements, including fencing with real swords and had to have very quick, with very complex costume changes. The show was a great success and we had to extend the run of the show for 2 years.

4) What’s the worst day job you ever took?

I always tried to find something fun in every job I had to do. The only one that made me quit, was a job selling water filters in Florida. But the reason I quit was because management was trying too hard to sell very expensive units and tried to force me to trick people into getting them.

5) What is your most embarrassing moment in the theatre? There were many funny moments!

I never forget the moment when I was playing the lead character in a children’s show and I was running through the audience with my stage sisters to get on the stage, in a long gown and one of my sisters came too close behind me and stepped on my dress and my dress ripped, oh my God, what an embarrassment! I had to continue running towards the stage, holding my dress so it would not fall down and then i had to sing a love song.  I was truly paralyzed but the audience did not even notice.

The other very embarrassing moment was when I was dancing on a huge Performing Arts stage in Florida, among 5 other beautiful dancers. I was dancing to the newest composition, dressed in a leotard with a nice scarf over my hips. After 10 kicks, my scarf came loose and fell down and I could not even pick it up until the very end of the dance. I was frozen inside but had to continue dancing and did the choreography. My acting skills helped me finish in a smooth way and I picked up the scarf as it was intended. My sister was laughing so hard but my niece, maybe 8 years old, felt my embarrassment and said out loud to her mom, “that was not funny mom!”. That made my day!

6) What are you enjoying most about working on They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! By Dario Fo?

The work on that play started last year in early summer when I decided to work on an Italian play and wished to explore a Nobel Prize winner, Dario Fo. As soon as I received the book with the plays by Dario Fo, the play that immediately caught my eye and won my heart was the original play, Won’t Pay! Won’t Pay!. This was one of the plays that when I read it, I laughed so hard and immediately thought of producing it in US. I saw a lot of references to “our current times”, even though it was written in 70s.

I immediately contacted the author’s agency and learned that they do not give permission to the original version anymore, and that Dario Fo rewrote the play in 2008. It was translated into English in 2012. That is the version we are performing now with more updates, that we created while working on it. These modifications were accepted by the author and the translators. I also got a chance to work with Mario Pirovano, the closest collaborator of Dario Fo who came to the US and presented his One man show of Johan Padan and the Discovery of America by Dario Fo. He also led a Master Class for our actors and friends. Thanks to him I was not only able to learn more about Dario Fo and his style, but also meet Dario Fo via skype and see him create.  Thanks to Mario, we were able to get a personal video message from Dario Fo about the play and its message. I felt truly blessed to have such an  opportunity. Thanks to that process I was also able to implement many of the acting skills into my performance of Antonia in They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!. Also Thanks to this collaboration, I was able to better understand the communication with the audience. I was able to listen more intently and apply that knowledge on the stage.

I love playing the character of Antonia, who tries to find the best way to survive in the world of economic crisis and always find solutions (even if they were not the best ones but portrayed by Dario Fo in a very grotesque-like, humor) to a given circumstance.  I also love interacting with my colleague- actors and find new things every time we perform it. I find joy in finding new comedic things and references to our times, thanks to the audience collaboration. I feel like an actor who got so many artistic tools from Dario Fo and now is able to paint, compose and fly!

7) Other than your significant other, who’s your dream date (living or dead) and why?

The only dream date I ever think of is my husband, but if we are talking about dream meeting, then there are many names that come to my mind. Currently while performing in They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!, I dream about meeting in Dario Fo in person, a “Renaissance Man of our Times”.  I would love to watch him perform life and participate in an acting workshop led by him. I also would love to visit his art studio where he creates his fabulous paintings. I would love to listen to his inspiring life stories and learn from a master.

8) What is your dream role/job?

My dream job is creating a theater that moves the audience, inspire them, provokes and makes them come back to hear more. I dream of a theater that is a home for all creative artists and a great collaborative, inspirational exchange between the artists and spectators. I am always dreaming of a theater that houses international artists whose main goal is to create works that uplift and provoke, educate and inspire the international cultural understanding. I dream of a theater that breaks all borders and brings us all closer after learning about different cultures from around the world.

9) If you could travel back in time, what famous production or performance would you choose to see?

Since I grew up and was educated in Poland, my travels would probably bring me back to my hometown, Warsaw, where I saw several inspiring productions that I would love to see again and again and again. One of the most inspiring ones was Amadeus, directed by Roman Polanski who also played the role of Mozart with one of the most famous actors of our times, Tadeusz Lomnicki, who played the role of Salieri. I never forget the scene in which he transformed right in front of the audience from an old crippled man to a young Salieri. I watched the show 4 times, standing on the steps, there was no seats available.  His mastery was unreachable; I never saw any actor in my life who would reach that mastery as Tadeusz Lomnicki. I also saw him in Krapp’s Last Tape by Samuel Beckett in which he was breathtaking.

10) What advice would you give to an 8 year-old smitten by theatre / for a graduating MFA student?

If you are truly serious of becoming an actor, make sure you learn how to use your “heightened senses”- listen, see, smell, taste, be aware of all things around. The process of learning and discoveries never ends! Always master your skills, work on your body, voice and look for inspirations to broaden your artistic vocabulary. Acting is like painting, composing, singing, playing music and dancing, all combined together. You may reach the sky but you may also fall down. Listen to your inner voice and fly.


HANNA BONDAREWSKA is a Polish-American actor, Artistic director & Founder of the Ambassador Theater. Hanna was recognized by DC Metro Theater Arts as one of the Best Directors 2014 and 2015 for Happily Ever After and for The Trap and received 2013 Helen Hayes Canadian Grant Award among other awards and recognitions. She founded the Ambassador Theater because she believes in the power of theater to change the world for the better through collaboration and artistry. By bringing together theater and diplomacy she hopes to give us all a new perspective as global citizens, which will lead to deeper cultural understanding. “For Hanna Bondarewska, the path to world peace not only exists, she is walking it — one artistic endeavor at a time.” – The Washington Diplomat.

Mar 152016

Theatre Review: ‘They Won’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!’ at Ambassador Theater

Posted By: Andrew Whiteon: March 13, 2016

Darren Marquardt (Giovanni) and Hanna Bondarewska (Antonia). Photo by Valentin Radev.Darren Marquardt (Giovanni) and Hanna Bondarewska (Antonia). Photo by Valentin Radev.

In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of probably the most contentious presidential election in a generation.  Once the trash-talk dies down, we might actually get to talk about the issues, of which there are many.

How bad is it?  Consider that once we get past the shock of Donald Trump’s language and the pugnacious attitude of his staff and crew, we discover that what really ticks people off is stagnant wages, rising prices for necessities, evictions of honest hard-working people, etc. The media meanwhile, are so obsessed with gossip about the latest outrage from The Donald that they don’t give us time to notice just how miserable the economy really is.

The show is great fun…

Enter Ambassador Theater and their celebration of Dario Fo’s provocative, unabashedly leftist comedy, They Won’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! Set deliberately in the present day, and subject to revision and adaptation every time it is staged, They Won’t Pay? borrows liberally from the Italian Commedia dell’ Arte tradition to tell a tale about our contemporary economic crisis.


In this American incarnation of Fo’s classic we have all the makings of a screwball farce, with enough pratfalls and evidence hidden from view (not to mention the occasional stiff) to fill an entire Vaudeville hall.  The action begins with a run on the local supermarket; shoppers, outraged by the sudden increase in prices, begin to loot the store shelves of everything and head home with their stolen goods. So far, so good; but how to hide the stuff from the police?  Answer – instant pregnancy.  Suddenly, all the women in the neighborhood appear with ‘baby bumps’ loaded with pasta, olives, tuna, etc.  And because the local police can’t be trusted to enforce the law even the Feds get involved—to no avail.

The somewhat ditsy heroine here is Antonia—played with gusto by Hanna Bondarewska, who channels Lucille Ball by way of Fo’s late wife Franca Rame.  Her partner in crime is Margherita (the charming Moriah Whiteman), and much of the comic business here revolves around the ‘baby bump’ plot and its unintended consequences.  It’s not too long before Margherita’s husband Luigi (the charismatic Mitch Irzinski) learns of his wife’s instantaneous conception, and he and his best buddy Giovanni—Antonia’s husband, played here by Daren Marquardt—proceed to wander all over town looking for the ‘baby’ and its ‘mum.’  Occasionally wandering into this mess, in a variety of guises, is the irrepressible Peter Orvetti, whose quadrupling of roles becomes a rather pleasant running gag throughout.


Mar 082016

Review: ‘They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!’ at Ambassador Theater

by  on March 7, 2016
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How fortunate we are in the DC area, a locale that seeks status as a world class city, to have the Ambassador Theater in our midst. The Ambassador Theater has a mission to build international cultural awareness through a regular repertoire of under-produced plays from renowned playwrights. The programming often involves connections with cultural affairs representatives from other countries to bring shows to the stage.

 Darren Marquardt (Giovanni) and Hanna Bondarewska (Antonia). Photo by Valentin Radev.Darren Marquardt (Giovanni) and Hanna Bondarewska (Antonia). Photo by Valentin Radev.

Ambassador Theater’s s current production, done in partnership with the Italian Cultural Institute, is Nobel Prize for Literature recipient Dario Fo’s They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! (1974). The production is an amusing farcical tale of working class heroes taking revenge on the establishment after being screwed over too long by those in power. It is payback they seek; and payback they take.

Fo’s They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! is guerilla political theater that draws upon the celebrated 16th century Italian carnival-like artistic style of Commedia Dell’arte and 20th century left-radical political perspectives about the solidarity of put-upon workers in their battle against the owner classes.

For those unfamiliar with playwright Fo; he received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1997. He was cited as a writer, “who emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden.”

Under the direction of Joe Martin and Danny Rovin, with a translation of the Italian text by Jon Laskin and Michael Aquilante, They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! Is a fun house for those who enjoy absurdist sketch-art, an improv sensibility and the frantic, uncontrolled inner workings of Commedia Dell’arte with stock-characters who wear an attitude of high-jinx like a mask. The frenetic comic style of They Don’t Pay, We Won’t Pay cleverly disguises the play’s sweeping intention of seriousness until at the final curtain, the capacity to unseat the powerful through worker camaraderie becomes clear.

Martin called the play an “underclass farce” that expands upon the large repertory of “overclass farces from Noel Coward, Oscar Wilde, et al.” In his director’s note, he further indicated that the spirit of the show is “topical for time and place of the production” as the translated dialogue includes references to current some situations in the United States.

The play is succinctly described by Ambassador Theater as: “Desperate housewives take justice in their own hands… inspired by real life events of workers’ uprising in 1974’s Italy.” The characters include housewife Antonia (a likeable, colorfully portrayed, high-energy, spinning-top Hanna Bondarewska). During unrest at a supermarket, Antonia appropriates food without paying; then tries to hide the stolen items from her more law-abiding husband Giovanni (Darren Marquardt with a comical presence and a befuddled reaction to the happenings surrounding him). Antonia’s hiding place for the shoplifted food is under a coat worn by her best friend Margherita (Moriah Whiteman as a droll second-banana, fully living her stage life in reaction to Bondarewska).

From this start, there is constant physical disorder and loud verbal commotion and the rage of people unable to pay their bills because the system is set against them. The chaos only expands when Giovanni and his friend and Margherita’s spouse Luigi (Mitch Irzinski as a “straight” presence for most of the production) are made to believe in miracle pregnancies and several levels of police investigate where the stolen food might be and who might have stolen it. Peter Orvetti plays two police characters as twin-like doppelgangers; one supporting the workers and looking the other way; the one with a fake mustache who pays a price for his anti-worker attitude. Even the Pope takes some verbal hits.

The design team that transformed the black box of the Mead Lab Flashpoint into an apt setting for Fo’s wit are up to the task even on what appears to be a small budget. The team includes Set Designer Rachael Knoblauch who built a small interior apartment space and with sleight of hand brings some scenes “outside” with the first-rate assistance of Lighting Designer E-hui Woo with her use of half-light and black outs that also evocate dream sequences. Noor Che’Ree’s music/sound design is effective with mood setting especially as the show nears its conclusion with a very recognizable century old anthem to solidarity.

Mitch Irzinski (Luigi), and Darren Marquardt (Giovanni). Photo by Valentin Radev.Mitch Irzinski (Luigi), and Darren Marquardt (Giovanni). Photo by Valentin Radev.

Costumer Sigridur Johannesdottir provides the working-class characters with the clothes needed for audiences to realize who they are. Benjamin Cunis is credited as movement consultant for the feverish, if not breathless, pace of the production.

A big round of applause goes to Set/Artist Painter Julia Tasheva, who I must assume painted what is a fantastic work of visual art, the set curtain that the audience gazes at. The painted curtain is not unlike the 1930’s Ben Shan works, some may recall once hanging in DC federal building such as HHS and VOA.

For audiences who enjoy the broad comedy of Commedia Dell’arte, and for those who want a fix of left-leaning worker solidarity in those days before the current gig economy, then a visit to Ambassador Theater’s They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! will be a splendid treat.

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Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes. including one intermission.

They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! plays through March 26, 2016 at Ambassador Theater performing at The Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint – 916 G Street, NW, in Washington DC. For tickets, purchase them at the door, or online.


Mar 082016

They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! from Ambassador Theater (review)

March 7, 2016 by 
The mark of master storytellers is that they can make a given narrative hold resonance and power beyond the narrow context of the original time and place. By this standard, much art will ultimately fall short, stripped of its context and relevance as time marches on. The work that endures captures truth, even when in a different language and time. Italian actor-playwright Dario Fo is considered such a storyteller.

Beyond his considerable comedic instincts, this is due to his choice of material, often focused on promoting the solidarity of a working class smothered by a heartless ruling elite. If unfortunate for Fo’s idealism, the persistence of the struggle lends his work a timeless quality – particularly in the case of They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!

Hanna Bondarewska as Antonia and Moriah Whiteman as Margherita in They Won't Pay? We Won't Pay from Ambassador Theater (Photo: Valentin Radev)Originally set and premiered in Italy in the late 1970s, Fo’s creation is the story of ordinary people in various stages of subversion against a “free market” stacked against them and teetering in the throes of collapse. Fo has revised the story over the decades to maintain relevance, but the broad contours of the conflict remain unchanged and familiar. Just in time to mark Fo’s 90th birthday, co-directors Joe Martin and Danny Rovins’ latest rendition, presented by Ambassador Theater, seamlessly adapts the action to Great Recession-era Newark: talk of foreclosures, grumbling over bailed out banks, references to Ben Bernanke. (It is a sign of some progress that critical asides about the Pope have been amended to “the previous Pope.”)

With wages depressed and the cost of living ever increasing, a group of women decide to take direct action by helping themselves to “five finger discounts” at the grocery store. They include Antonia (Hanna Bondarewska) and Margherita (Moriah Whiteman), whose capacity for direct action greatly exceeds their husbands’, Giovanni (Darren Marquardt) and Luigi (Mitch Irzinski). The men, ground into exhaustion by the low pay and tedium of their work, have a longer journey in imagining how to even begin meaningful rebellion. Giovanni, in particular, would go without food before considering picking up his wife’s brand of civil disobedience.

Peter Orvetti as Federal Agent, Hanna Bondarewska as Antonia, Darren Marquardt as Giovanni, Mitch Irzinski as Luigi and Moriah Whiteman as Margherita in They Won't Pay? We Won't Pay! from Ambassador Theater (Photo: Valentin Radev)Peter Orvetti as Federal Agent, Hanna Bondarewska as Antonia, Darren Marquardt as Giovanni, Mitch Irzinski as Luigi and Moriah Whiteman as Margherita in They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! from Ambassador Theater (Photo: Valentin Radev)

Despite its soaring social vision, the production is not nearly as sober as a Bernie Sanders keynote. Pay injects plenty of levity and even slapstick as the women adopt an elaborate ruse presenting Margherita is pregnant to conceal their grocery bounty when Giovanni unexpectedly returns to the apartment. Further shenanigans abound as the women scramble to conceal their thievery from police who conduct a mass sweep in search of the stolen goods.

Peter Orvetti plays a quartet of characters, distinguished mostly by modest costume changes. The most memorable and interesting is a police officer who,  proud of his college pedigree during which he may have thumbed through some Marx in the library, adopts a more nuanced view of which thieves the police should be investing their energies pursuing.

The talented cast brings enormous energy and spirit, particularly to the roles of the women feeling the rush to adopt direct action as a means of putting food on the table. A little of the slapstick goes a long way, however, growing tiresome toward the middle of the second act. Indeed, one revision that I would welcome is a tightening of the pace. With an intermission, I felt the 2 and a half hour length was better suited to a story of epic scope – rather than one primarily confined to a tiny apartment.The production design effectively captures the cramped frustration of the characters’ living space and makes effective use of the one other setting: a mural on a curtain depicting a range of ordinary laborers, circa 1930s. It’s the kind of image that evokes the art that dotted lobbies and corridors in countless buildings during the heyday of the Works Progress Administration. Now many of these images are fading by neglect and design alike. Witness the 2011 episode in which the Republican governor of Maine took aim at a mural in a government building depicting the state’s labor history, on the grounds it sent an anti-business message.  (It was the Department of Labor, no less.)

As the final moments of They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! allude, most of us who make our living from wages should see ourselves in these images and stories, even as the clothing – or the language -changes. We let them fade at our collective peril.

They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! . Written by Dario Fo. Translated by Jon Laskin and Michael Aquilante. Co-directed by Joe Martin and Danny Rovin. Cast: Hanna Bondarewska. Darren Marquardt. Moriah Whiteman. Mitch Irzinski. Peter Orvetti . Set Design: Rachel Knoblauch. Set/Artist Painter: Julia Tasheva. Lighting Designer: E-hui Woo. Costume Designer: Sigrid Johannesdottir. Stage Manager: Xandra Weaver. Produced by Hanna Bondarewska for Ambassador Theater . Reviewed by Daron Christopher.



March 3 – 26
Ambassador Theater
at Mead Theatre Lab
Flashpoint Gallery
916 G St NW
Washington DC 20001
Tickets: $20 – $40


Mar 072016

Magic Time! ‘They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!’ at Ambassador Theater

by  on March 7, 2016
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In politics, the expression “Marxist farce” could well be a slur hurled by some puerile and petulant presidential hopeful (you never know these days). In theater, however, the term “Marxist farce” has a reputable history and legitimate meaning as the name of a genre. It just doesn’t pop up much. In the economics of commercial theater, Marxist farce is a rare bird, and it’s no longer much seen in the U.S. indie theater scene either.

Peter Orvetti (Federal Agent), Hanna Bondarewska (Antonia), Darren Marquardt (Giovanni), Mitch Irzinski (Luigi), and Moriah Whiteman (Margherita). Photo by Valentin Radev.Peter Orvetti (Federal Agent), Hanna Bondarewska (Antonia), Darren Marquardt (Giovanni), Mitch Irzinski (Luigi), and Moriah Whiteman (Margherita). Photo by Valentin Radev. 

If you’re looking for one of these uncommon agit-tainments, you’d be hard pressed to find a more interesting and important example than Dario Fo’s They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! It’s the prolific Nobel Prize winner’s most produced play, written in 1974 and staged around the world since. Thanks to Ambassador Theater you can catch this classic work of working-class consciousness in a terrifically witty revival at Flashpoint.

In They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!, Fo borrows farcical techniques from the Commedia Dell’Arte and boulevard theater of his native Italy as well as the Theatre of the Absurd. American audiences unfamiliar with these European traditions might more likely recognize echoes of Abbott and Costello, I Love Lucy, Martin and Lewis, and Jackie Gleason’s The Honeymooners. Indeed Fo’s two hilariously scheming housewives Antonia (Hanna Bondarewska) and Margherita (Moriah Whiteman) could be sisters to Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz, and their two bombastic/bumbling husbands Giovanni (Darren Marquardt) and Luigi (Mitch Irzinski) could be doppelgangers for Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton.

Darren Marquardt as Giovanni and Hanna Bondarewska as Antonia, Photo by Valentin Radev.

The zany plot kicks off when consumer prices suddenly skyrocket and Antonia joins with other shoppers who are taking matters into their own hands by stealing food. Afraid her law-abiding husband Giovanni will find out, Antonia conceals some of the stolen food under her friend Margherita’s coat, with the result she looks  pregnant. The husbands’ bewilderment over this sudden fecundity makes for running gags aplenty. Meanwhile the law shows up in multiple guises (Peter Orvetti) intent on finding the incriminating food loot. The play is aimed squarely at a mass middle-of-the-road audience, cleverly constructed to keep ’em laughing all the way through to the very end, when Fo’s exhortation to build a mass movement of proletariat solidarity enters slyly if not subtlely, like a beneficent deus ex marxism.

Ambassador Theater is presenting the DC area premiere of a wonderful new-and-now translation by Jon Laskin and Michael Aquilante of Fo’s most recent rewrite (over the years he has continued updating it to keep pace with the dispiriting financial times), and it’s a real kick to listen to this adroit cast play it to the hilt.  Zippily directed by Joe Martin, the production relocates the play from Milan to Newark, and changes Italian corporation names to contemporary U.S. behemoths like Citibank and Verizon. Also interpolated are some apt references to “the previous Pope’s” edicts against contraception and recent police activity in Baltimore and Fergusson. The first act is a hoot; the second act lags a bit. I sensed Fo overwrote a stretch. A labored subplot heist by Giovanni and Luigi supplants the far more madcap momentum begun by Antonia and Margherita. But that’s a script quibble.

The Ambassador Theater’s enjoyable production of They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! smartly showcases a classic by one of world theater’s most influential political consciences.

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Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission.

They Don’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! plays through March 26, 2016 at Ambassador Theater performing at The Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint – 916 G Street, NW, in Washington DC. For tickets, purchase them at the door, or online.


Nov 042015

A smart, surreal Smartphones from Ambassador Theater (review)

November 3, 2015 by Rosalind Lacy

A must-see, wacky send-up, Smartphones, is a fast-paced one-act about the fear of life without a mobile phone. Written in English by Spanish playwright Emilio Williams, award-winning director Joe Banno gives it a larger-than-life staging.

Smartphones raises an important question: Shouldn’t our deep involvement in cyber-tech gadgets bring us closer to each other?

No way, warns playwright Williams, who shows us through nonsensical, comic bits, which place his play firmly in theatre-of-the-absurd, how cyber-tech smart phones actually isolate us and drive us further  apart.

It’s a familiar Godot-like plot: Two married couples are trapped in their friend Fedé’s home waiting for his arrival. All four, Amelia (Ariana Almajan), Barnaby (Tekle Ghebremeschel), Chantal (Moriah Whiteman), and Dagobert (Shravan Amin), are so addicted to their smart phones that they text each other non-stop.

Amelia, dressed elegantly in a stylish white sheath, splotched with  an ink-smear pattern, receives tweets that Fedé is “on his way.” But their host never arrives.

The setting in the tiny Mead Theatre lab, designed by David Ghatan, is minimalist : black swivel chairs and leather settee. The frenetic four guests share irrational anxieties, hyped with worry  that their battery-powered phones will lose power. (The fear is known as nomophobia, an abbreviation for “no-mobile-phone phobia”.)  Communication could cut off. Not one has a charger. Friends on Facebook are friends Ariana Almajan as Amelia and (back) Moriah Whiteman as Chantal as long as there is battery power.  All appear to be at the mercy of            in Smartphones from Ambassador Theater (Photo: Valentin Radev) high-tech innovations.

Their melodramatic, exaggerated behavior grows grotesquely odd. Dagobert, overwhelmed by his life and stressed out about his waning cell phone battery, runs off stage and we hear sounds of his self-induced vomiting. Later, Dagobert tells his colleagues-in-waiting he feels victimized. He received a tweet from someone named Miriam, who robs him of friends posted on his Facebook wall.

These trendy millennials are so in love with themselves that deep involvement with anyone else is impossible.  Chantel suggests the two women take a “selfie” together. Amelia says: “You look terrible Look at that double chin.” They see flaws; not depth.

These well-dressed professionals are vastly detached from their children. They participate in the “latest in outsourcing.” Satire is aimed at parents so dehumanized, they send their kids to China to be educated, claiming that the kids really study and work there. After all, computers and high tech apps are sent to China to be assembled. So why not send kids for their education and job experience?

(l-r) Ariana Almajan (Amelia), Tekle Ghebremeschel (Barnaby), Hanna Bondarewska (Maid), Shravan Amin (Dagobert), and Moriah Whiteman (Chantal) in Smartphones from Ambassador Theater (Photo: Valentin Radev)

Smartphones successfully wires us for laughter. Comic bits abound. Spot-lighted, Amelia and Chantal, text each other, communicating what sounds like gibberish through their smart phones without eye contact. Later, the land-line phone is pitted against the cell phone, the old versus the new. When the land line rings, one of the characters opines: “Nobody answers those phones anymore.” Or: “It’s the telemarketer again!” In a climactic moment during a quiet funeral for a dead cell phone, Barnaby breaks in “Maybe they sell chargers at the Indian store around the corner.”

And then there’s the stunning entrance of Hanna Bondarewska, Ambassador Theater’s artistic director, as the maid. Dressed in a short-skirted, sexy, black  latex uniform with white apron, and spike heels, she rides in on a scooter, gleefully blowing kisses. Freed from household chores by technology, the maid has been outside playing games.

Life without a cell phone is so unbearable that Amelia and Barnaby take turns slipping out the no-exit door, searching for whiskey, vodka or Tequila, anything alcoholic that might be an alternative to their high-tech addiction. Technology, playwright Williams seems to be telling us,  is no longer our servant. It has become our master.

Freaked out by static in their heads, two of the people freeze, arms extended, like string puppets, unable to embrace. “We are all characters to Beckett. (not humans). We’re like characters out of Waiting for Godot or Sartre’s No Exit,” says Amelia, recapping: “Hell is with other people,” the famous line from Sartre’s existential gem. “All of us are part of a piece of art.” to which Amelia reacts with: “I don’t want to be a piece of art. I want Fedé to show up.”

As I left the theatre at the play’s end, I found myself reaching out to others in the audience, speaking, connecting to strangers. I felt like embracing the actors for this profound, refreshing experience.

Smartphones, A Pocket-Size Farce by Emilio Williams . Directed by Joe Banno . Featuring Ariana Almajan as Amelia, Tekle Ghebremeschel as Barnaby,  Moriah Whiteman as Chantal, Shravan Amin as Dagobert; Hanna Bondarewska as the Maid . Set/Lights Designer: David Ghatan . Sound/Music: Gabriel Dib . Assistant Lighting Designer: E-hui Woo  .  Costume Designer: Lynly A. Saunders . Movement, Production Stage Manager: Michelle Taylor .  Produced by the Ambassador Theater . Reviewed by Rosalind Lacy.

SMARTPHONES  October 20 – November 15, 2015
Ambassador Theater at Flashpoint, Mead Theatre Lab
916 G St NW, Washington, DC 20001
55 minutes
Tickets: $20 – $40
Thursdays thru Sundays
Details and Tickets

About Rosalind Lacy

Rosalind Lacy MacLennan, who hails from Los Angeles, has enjoyed writing for DCTheatreScene since 2006. A 20-year journalism veteran, with newspapers such as the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette, the Butler Eagle in Pennsylvania, the Suburban Newspapers of Northern New Jersey, Rosalind won a MD-DC press award for the Montgomery Journal in 1999. Since Rosalind’s heady days training and performing professionally in summer stock out of New York City, Rosalind has taught drama in high school, directed and acted in community theaters, and is the proud mother of three young adults. Still an avid theater nut, Rosalind is a former board member of, and an aficionada of Spanish theater.


Oct 272015


‘Smartphones–a pocket-size farce’ at Ambassador Theater

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

by  on October 25, 2015
saw this show last nite. LMAO. 2 funny. OMG. u G2G.

So might read a hasty text from a self-absorbed hipster about Smartphones, the ridiculously delightful farce now playing at Mead Lab Flashpoint. Presented by Ambassador Theater in a brisk and bracing production directed by Joe Banno, Smartphones is a hilarious comedy of bad manners about our era’s inner Narcissus, whose vain reflection now stares back from a handheld screen.

Ariana Almajan (Amelia). Photo by Valentine Radev.

Spanish playwright Emilio Williams writes with tongue drolly in cheek, except when stuck out and blowing a raspberry. Two young married couples—Amelia and Barnaby, and Dagobert and Chantal—meet up in the home of their friend Fedé, who is absent but expected imminently. The husbands are friends from high school; the wives, from college. And in an endlessly silly meta-theatrical joke, their wait for Fedé echos Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (except now and then they receive “On my way” texts from him and follow his Facebook and Twitter feeds). Also skewering their self-referential, selfie-satisfied social world is a meta-joke hyperlinked to Sartre’s No Exit (except one or another will now and then run out to buy a bottle of booze).

Fedé’s cleaning lady, Marie (Ambassador Artistic Director and Founder Hanna Bondarewska, decked out in a latex maid’s getup and yellow rubber gloves), opens the show lip syncing an operatic aria and amusingly flouncing about and flirting with the audience seated round the stage. The stark, simple set (designed along with the flashy lighting by David Ghatan) features four leather swivel chairs, a black-upholstered table, and an anachronistic green plastic telephone perched upon a red pillar.

The couples enter and banter, and each spouse carries a constantly consulted smartphone. The landline rings auspiciously but they let it go—because “nobody answers their phone anymore.” Obsessed with their  wi-fi’ed online lives, at one point the two women text a convo in the dark, their faces lit solely by their smartphones. It’s one of googobs of clever bits. There’s also a running joke about “spotty coverage”—to which they all say “ewww!” Episodically they all spaz out in weird green light and loud static, as if in dreaded disconnection from a signal—meanwhile their disconnection from one another fazes them not at all.

So outrageously and hilariously shallow are the four of them that they speak earnestly about the benefits of outsourcing their children to China for adoption. “There are things in life that a horoscope can’t prepare you for,” one of them laments. Suddenly a text message comes in. Is it from Fedé? “Oh no, it was just my fridge. I’ve got an alert that we ran out of margarine.” Banno’s program note aptly characterizes Smartphones as “‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians,’ as if written by a blogging Oscar Wilde.”

Ariana Almajan brought a very funny Valley Girl inflection to Amelia. Moriah Whiteman played the ditz Chantal with incouciant fizz.

Shravan Amin (Dagobert) and Moriah Whiteman (Chantall), and Ariana Almajan (Amelia). Photo by Valentine Radev.Shravan Amin (Dagobert) and Moriah Whiteman (Chantall), and Ariana Almajan (Amelia). Photo by Valentine Radev. 

And Shravan Amin gave Dagobert bumbling charm. Because Bruce Rauscher had become unable to perform as Barnaby, Tekle Ghebremeschel stepped in and played the role on book. I can attest he did well, and the last-minute substitution did not detract the slightest from my complete enjoyment.

Smartphones is one of the smartest, sharpest satires I’ve seen. It’s also one of the shortest—the subtitle’s “pocket-size” doesn’t lie. And in its refreshing brevity is the soul of its conspicuous wit.


Running Time: 55 minutes, with no intermission.



Oct 242015

Shravan Amin as Dagobert and Moriah Whiteman as Chantal in “Smartphones: A Pocket-Size Farce.” (Valentine Radev)

By Celia Wren October 27 at 2:48 PM

Is Google making us stupid? Maybe, maybe not. But the wired lifestyle has certainly dimmed the acumen of Amelia, Barnaby, Chantal and Dagobert, the principal characters in Emilio Williams’s “Smartphones: A Pocket-Size Farce.” The four narcissists are so distracted by their mobile gadgets that they can barely carry on a conversation, let alone discern the web of sexual intrigue that complicates their every move.

Spanish playwright Williams doesn’t limit himself to spoofing cellphone addiction in this strenuously waggish one-act, which the Ambassador Theater has mounted (in English) at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint: “Smartphones” nods to such cultural touchstones as “Waiting for Godot,” “No Exit,” the films of Luis Buñuel and classic farce. It’s an ambitious conflation of social satire, antic comedy and highbrow allusion, but the result sometimes feels labored. And the deliberately exaggerated acting style in director Joe Banno’s production can be exhausting to watch.

Still, guffaws regularly erupted from the audience at a recent performance of “Smartphones.” It was a show-must-go-on moment: With a medical condition sidelining Bruce Alan Rauscher, who had been scheduled to play Barnaby, actor Tekle Ghebremeschel performed the role, script in hand, while Ambassador Theater’s artistic director, Hanna Bondarewska, shouldered Ghebremeschel’s previous role — the Maid. Both replacements (who will likely continue in the parts) did a fine job: Ghebremeschel is on the way to pinning down Barnaby’s self-congratulatory, sexist personality. And Bondarewska seemed wholly at ease as she fluttered around the stage in what appeared to be a vinyl French maid outfit.

Even the script in Ghebremeschel’s hand could be seen as apt: “Smartphones” contains meta-theatrical touches, including voiced stage directions. The story line nods to “Waiting for Godot”: Dagobert (Shravan Amin) and Barnaby, and their respective wives, Chantal (Moriah Whiteman) and Amelia (Ariana Almajan), have gathered at the home of their friend Fedé, who has yet to arrive. As they wait — and wait — the couples chat, bicker and trade confessions, but above all interact with their cellphones, checking Facebook and Twitter, taking photos and at one point looking up the line “Hell is other people” on Wikipedia. (The line is from “No Exit.”) In a whimsical conceit that reflects the characters’ handheld-device addiction, periodic bursts of static make them flail, as if they were suffering from fits.

Channeling these personalities, the actors often employ melodramatic or mannered intonations and movements, underscoring the absurdity of the characters’ over-amped reactions to minor issues. (A battery is losing charge! A telemarketer is calling!) The gleefully hammy sound cues work to the same end. The effect is perhaps all the more pointed because of the undramatic and indeed minimalist modern-apartment set. (David Ghatan designed the set and lights, and Lynly A. Saunders the status-signaling costumes. The sound design, credited to Gabriel Dib, draws on the one created for the world premiere of “Smartphones” in Chicago. The Ambassador production is presented in partnership with the Spanish Embassy and Spain Arts & Culture.)

Such studiously marshaled production elements notwithstanding, “Smartphones” comes across as less piquant than “Medea’s Got Some Issues,” the Williams play that appeared in the Capital Fringe Festival in 2014. This script may appeal to a broader audience, however: These days, familiarity with Greek tragedy is less common than cellphone dependence.

Wren is a freelance writer.

Smartphones: A Pocket-Size Farce By Emilio Williams. Directed by Joe Banno; assistant lighting designer, E-hui Woo; sound adaptation and movement, Michelle Taylor; music, Gabriel Dib. About 60 minutes. Through Nov. 15 at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, 916 G St. NW. Tickets: $20-$35


Oct 212015

‘Sex, Lies and Nomophobia’ in Emilio Williams’ ‘Smartphones’ at Ambassador Theater Opening Tonight

by  on October 20, 2015
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Smartphones, A Pocket-Size Farce – produced by and Ambassador Theater in partnership with the Embassy of Spain and Spain arts and Culture, directed by Helen Hayes Award recipient Joe Banno – opens at The Mead Lab Flashpoint on October 22, 2015.

Oct 20 - Nov 15, 2015 At Flashpoint 916 G Street, NW, Washington DC 20001 Graphic Design by Lukasz Pinkowski

Doesn’t existence seem totally absurd at times and life too restrictive? Don’t we wish we were free of social norms and do as we like? Aren’t we our own worst enemies at times? Emilio Williams*, the author of Smartphones, asks the same questions yet as a dramatist has the opportunity to dream our dreams and nightmares on stage. In Smartphones, inspired by Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, the avant-garde playwright takes his privilege to the absurdist limit. Mixing the Absurd, Ridiculous and the Surreal with a layer of ‘digital madness’, he brings human shadows and insecurities to light, making us reflect on life and to laugh, nervously at times, in the process.

Emilio Williams is a dramatist who uses his medium like a magnifying glass, bringing into focus complex aspects of our psyche challenged by today’s fast-paced existence. Just like his influences – Beckett, Ludlam, Moliere, and Bunuel, he is acutely aware of what is difficult, awkward and absurd in life and chooses to talk about it using humor, farce and parody. “Nothing is more radical than humor” says Williams, whose multi-dimensional plays combine laughter with existential themes and a pertinent social satire. Smartphones, his only play that takes part in one set, one room and in real time, is also a great example of Williams’ reaction against conventions of the Realistic Theater.

“Your comedies tend to be silly but not stupid” said William’s friend once, and the author liked the comment. In case of Smartphones silly and serious go together. After all the play is a tribute to and a parody of the Theatre of the Absurd, as well as an example of William’s avoidance of literalness of theater realism. Also, true to the Theater of the Ridiculous Manifesto and its canon of ‘the free person,’ Smartphones’ personas are free to act in a spontaneous and silly way whilst not compromising seriousness of the matter. “The free person, as distinct from an authoritarian phony or the civilized adult, is erotic, socially self-assertive, playful and imaginative” (Brecht: 117) and so are the play’s characters….TO READ MORE