Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay! could just as easily be titled “I Love Antonia” for the heroine’s strong similarities to Lucille Ball and the crazily comic situations navigated by two working class couples. Antonia is as funny as Lucy, but she balances her quirky nuttiness with a shrewder understanding of the forces that conspire against her and her neighbors. Director Kristen Pilgrim takes us on a loopy journey filled with feminist hot takes, Pope jokes, pratfalls, and class struggle, but this production doesn’t want to only be seen as a comedy.
The play focuses on a single day when a few hundred women revolt against increasing food prices and decide to pay only what they want for their bags full of groceries, which ends up being nothing. The women escape with their groceries, but soon the police are knocking on every door in the neighborhood to root them out. Pressure builds as layoffs from the local factory are expected, and the police start issuing eviction notices since no one can afford to pay their rent.
Even though the work was originally published by Italian playwright Dario Fo in 1974, the tensions explored between the working class and police feel very timely. And comedy might be the cleverest way to take a look at these tough issues.
Antonia has just returned home laden with bags of food. She tells her friend, Margherita, about the women’s revolt at the supermarket. Antonia vacillates between gleeful pride at her haul and fear of reprisal from her law abiding husband, Giovanni. Antonia doesn’t see much wrong with what she has done, since the prices were so high and she doesn’t have enough money to pay rent much less eat, but she doesn’t want to be caught with her booty. Just before Giovanni returns, Antonia convinces Margherita to smuggle the groceries out of the apartment under her coat.
Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay!
closes November 18, 2018
Details and tickets
Giovanni sees the heavily laden Margherita speed past him and questions Antonia about Margherita’s sudden physical transformation. Always quick on her feet, Antonia spins a tale of Margherita’s hidden pregnancy to cover her tracks. This initial lie, begets increasingly outlandish stories and actions from Antonia. Eventually, both couples and a state trooper are sucked into her new reality, adding their own subterfuges and craziness to complicate everything further. The zigzagging plot careens wildly from there, including encounters with birdseed soup, premature baby transplants, and a casket.
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Antonia is played with relish by Francesca Marie Chilcote and watching her wobble on edge of disaster and narrowly escape with her ridiculous stories is a chief pleasure of the show. Chilcote luxuriates in Antonia’s calculating playfulness and is a consistent delight to watch. Colin Connor’s Giovanni has comedic energy to spare and definitely cranks the overall absurdity up a few notches. Connor gives the audience many laugh out loud moments, I just found myself wishing he hadn’t come on so strong at the beginning and allowed his antics to build to a crescendo as the play progressed.
Mary Myers and Steven Soto, Margherita and her husband Luigi, respectively, were solid foils for Chilcote and Connor, but I would have liked to see more moments where their characters offered a stronger realism to ground the main couple’s zaniness. Aubri O’Connor seemed to be having a lot of fun with the four characters she played, and she provided us with a stream of funny meta-theatrical moments that added enjoyable pauses in the crazy roller coaster ride of the action.
The “I Love Lucy” touches extended to the costuming, from the full skirted dresses of Antonia and Margherita to their husbands’ factory coveralls, giving a very 1950’s feel to the production. The set and prop design was exactly what Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay! needs, an unobtrusive and sturdy playground of objects for the characters to climb over, fall into, and toss around. Even though the space at Chaos on F does make for a very cozy performance area, the cast negotiated the closeness well, often using the proximity to humorous effect. I thought the use of kazoos by the cast while they shuffled between scenes was an excellent fit, capturing the madcap exuberance of the production. Farce is great at using laughter to make us think more deeply about uncomfortable realities, and Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay! is no exception.
Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay! by Dario Fo. Translated by Ron Jenkins. Directed by Kristen Pilgrim. Cast: Francesca Marie Chilcote (Antonia), Mary Myers (Margherita), Colin Connor (Giovanni), Steven Soto (Luigi), Aubri O’Connor (Police/Gravedigger/Grandfather). Lighting by Allie Heiman. Sound by Seoyoung Kim. Set by Aubri O’Connor. Props by Xandra Weaver. Costumes by Aubri O’Connor. Stage Management Caelan Tietze. Produced by Mara Sherman for Nu Sass Productions. Reviewed by Kate Gorman.