by Chad Jones for Oakland Tribune
Shotgun's blue-collar revolutionaries
shout `We Won't Pay!'
Hungry for laughs with bite? Well feed on Shotgun Players' lively production
of ``We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay!'' by Italian Nobel Prize laureate Dario
Like an episode of ``I Love Lucy'' with a social conscience, this Fo
involves two couples _ the Ricky and Lucy-like Antonia and Giovanni
Fred and Ethel-like Margherita and Luigi _ difficult economic times
full of stolen groceries.
When Fo wrote the play in the early 1970s, the Italian economy had
and food prices were excessively inflated. Seizing the opportunity for
comedy and commentary, Fo wrote a play in which neighborhood women loot
local supermarkets rather than let their families go hungry. The police
attempt a neighborhood sweep to arrest the offenders and confiscate
Audiences loved watching Fo's depiction of the little people scrambling
the police flailing.
The powers that be, however, felt differently. As actor Clive Worsley
plays Giovanni) tells us in an informal prologue, Fo was taken to court
charged with contributing to criminal behavior. The play was banned,
show went on in un-official venues.
Theater plays a very different role in our society today. Can you imagine
playwright being led to jail for causing an insurrection in Berkeley?
The power of Fo's broad comedy and his sympathy for the plight of the
downtrodden make ``We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay!'' (original title ``Non
paga, non si paga!'') both entertaining and relevant.
Director Rebecca Novick, using Ron Jenkins' translation, has adapted
play by setting it in present-day Oakland. The paintings that dominate
Pegheen McGhan's set depict the economic diversity of the East Bay,
bright blue and yellow of IKEA to the dinginess of a local pawn shop.
Local references also pepper the dialogue. When Antonia (Katja Rivera)
describes the defiant women at the supermarket, she says, ``We looked
Barbara Lee voting no.''
In his irony-laced prologue, Worsley suggests that Fo's play is all
problems we have already solved.
``If there are parallels to our own country in this play,'' he says,
In the midst of our own economic downturn, Fo's pointed comedy is even
sharper, and this Shotgun production effectively mines working-class
of losing what little there is left to lose.
Piled on top of those fears are layers and layers of farce. Fearful
caught with stolen food, Antonia and Margherita (Andrea Day) stuff the
down their shirts and pretend to be pregnant. This heartily confounds
simple but hardworking husbands and inspires some chaos involving premature
birth (a jar of olives breaks under Margherita's shirt) and apocryphal
premature baby transplants.
The Pope and the Catholic church are skewered along with the government,
health care and capitalistic injustice.
There's also some very funny business surrounding items Antonia accidentally
grabbed off the supermarket shelves. To cover her crime, she convinces
husband Giovanni that the hastily snatched dog food, bird seed and frozen
rabbit heads were all she could afford on their practically non-existent
Taking his wife's words to heart, Giovanni and his friend Luigi (Ian
Petroni) actually eat the dog food, much to the squirming delight of
the audience. Later on he makes a rabbit-birdseed soup. Worsley and
Petroni are terrific as the bumbling husbands attempting to maintain
their integrity in desperate circumstances. Rivera and Day make a well-matched
pair as their lies become more and more involved. Kevin Kelleher contributes
a number of inspired turns as various police officers, a pregnant corpse
and Giovanni's addlepated father. Having effectively roused the rabble
and tickled the funny bone for two hours, director Novick ends the show
with her cast singing ``Bread and Roses'' while Giovanni's sudden revelation
still hovers over the proceedings. ``I'm beginning to take this personally,''
he says. ``In just a few minutes the homeless are us.''
Review available online at