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Review 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 Fo. Like an episode of ``I Love Lucy'' with a social conscience, this Fo farce involves two couples _ the Ricky and Lucy-like Antonia and Giovanni and the Fred and Ethel-like Margherita and Luigi _ difficult economic times and bags full of stolen groceries.

When Fo wrote the play in the early 1970s, the Italian economy had tanked, and food prices were excessively inflated. Seizing the opportunity for both
comedy and commentary, Fo wrote a play in which neighborhood women loot local supermarkets rather than let their families go hungry. The police then attempt a neighborhood sweep to arrest the offenders and confiscate all stolen food.

Audiences loved watching Fo's depiction of the little people scrambling and the police flailing.

The powers that be, however, felt differently. As actor Clive Worsley (who plays Giovanni) tells us in an informal prologue, Fo was taken to court and charged with contributing to criminal behavior. The play was banned, but the show went on in un-official venues.

Theater plays a very different role in our society today. Can you imagine a 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 si paga, non si paga!'') both entertaining and relevant.

Director Rebecca Novick, using Ron Jenkins' translation, has adapted the play by setting it in present-day Oakland. The paintings that dominate Pegheen McGhan's set depict the economic diversity of the East Bay, from the 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 like Barbara Lee voting no.''

In his irony-laced prologue, Worsley suggests that Fo's play is all about problems we have already solved.

``If there are parallels to our own country in this play,'' he says, ``just ignore them.''

In the midst of our own economic downturn, Fo's pointed comedy is even sharper, and this Shotgun production effectively mines working-class fears of losing what little there is left to lose.

Piled on top of those fears are layers and layers of farce. Fearful of being caught with stolen food, Antonia and Margherita (Andrea Day) stuff the goods down their shirts and pretend to be pregnant. This heartily confounds their 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 her husband Giovanni that the hastily snatched dog food, bird seed and frozen rabbit heads were all she could afford on their practically non-existent food budget.

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,1413,82%257E1804%257E872955,00.html?search=filter


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