In politics, the expression â€œMarxist farceâ€ could well be a slur hurled by some puerile and petulant presidential hopeful (you never know these days). In theater, however, the term â€œMarxist farceâ€ has a reputable history and legitimate meaning as the name of a genre. It just doesnâ€™t pop up much. In the economics of commercial theater, Marxist farce is a rare bird, and itâ€™s no longer much seen in the U.S. indie theater scene either.
If youâ€™re looking for one of these uncommon agit-tainments, youâ€™d be hard pressed to find a more interesting and important example than Dario Foâ€™sÂ They Donâ€™t Pay? We Wonâ€™t Pay! Itâ€™s the prolific Nobel Prize winnerâ€™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 Donâ€™t Pay? We Wonâ€™t Pay!, Fo borrows farcical techniques from the Commedia Dellâ€™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,Â I Love Lucy, Martin and Lewis, and Jackie Gleasonâ€™sÂ The Honeymooners. Indeed Foâ€™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.
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 Margheritaâ€™s coat, with the result she looksÂ pregnant. The husbandsâ€™ 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 â€™em laughing all the way through to the very end, when Foâ€™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 Foâ€™s most recent rewrite (over the years he has continued updating it to keep pace with the dispiriting financial times), and itâ€™s a real kick to listen to this adroit cast play it to the hilt.Â 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 â€œthe previous Popeâ€™sâ€ 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 thatâ€™s a script quibble.
The Ambassador Theaterâ€™s enjoyable production ofÂ They Donâ€™t Pay? We Wonâ€™t Pay! smartly showcases a classic by one of world theaterâ€™s most influential political consciences.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission.
They Donâ€™t Pay? We Wonâ€™t Pay! plays through March 26, 2016 at Ambassador Theater performing at The Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint â€“ 916 G Street, NW, in Washington DC. For tickets, purchase them at the door, orÂ online.