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