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When John Szostek founded the Piccolo Theatre, for the company’s inaugural production, he chose Dario Fo’s “We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!” Mr. Szostek chose a play by Italian satirist Fo because he said, “as a company Piccolo feels a kindred spirit in Dario Fo.”
For the beginning of Piccolo’s tenth season, this company, in its element with comedy both physical and satirical, wets its feet with “Low Pay? Don’t Pay!” This updated version of “We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!” was revised by Mr. Fo himself and adapted for American audiences by Mr. Szostek, who also directs.
The result is a scathing indictment of capitalism and the food industry, modernized to speak out against recent issues like the bank bailouts and massive layoffs. Mr. Fo creates a voice for the working class that speaks out against the injustices they suffer, albeit in a rather surreal and chaotic manner.
Piccolo takes this farce runs with it with this inspired production and cast – almost all Piccolo Ensemble Members – that knows a thing or two about knocking authoritative entities down a notch.
The play involves two women, Margherita (Amy Gorelow) and Antonia (Brianna Sloane), who get swept up in an angry mob protesting unjustly rising food prices at the local grocery. In an act that is both a form of protest and am expression of the desire to feed their families (or fear that they will not be able to do so much longer), they steal, hide, hoard and eat as much food as they can fit down their dresses.
The women are desperate to keep their illegal and immoral actions from the police (David W.M. Kelch plays both a totalitarian police inspector and a sympathetic, working-class sergeant) and their blue-collar husbands, Giovanni (Ken Raabe) and Luigi (Glenn Proud), who become entangled in their own shenanigans later on in the play.
Despite an overabundance of dialogue that occasionally gets clunky early on, the cast’s spot-on gift for one-liners and physical comedy really sets the laughs rolling. Margherita is forced to fake pregnancy so Antonia can stuff the front of her dress with grub, while a possible corpse teeters on the verge of collapse in a wardrobe later on.
Unsavory food props aside (Rabbit heads? Yuck!), the costumes by Joshua D. Allard and set design by David Piper convey a definite “Honeymooners” vibe that establishes the working-class heroes immediately and makes them easily identifiable – important in works by Mr. Fo, which always threatens to careen out of reality. In fact, the Piccolo is the perfect theatre company to tackle his works.
The Next Theatre’s production of Mr. Fo’s “Accidental Death of an Anarchist” was one of my least favorite of their productions during my ten or so years of writing reviews.
The Piccolo was made for Mr. Fo, even when the tone takes a sharp, haunting turn right at the end, with the cast laid out in front of “The Fourth Estate,” a painting of the disheveled, huddled masses by Giuseppe Pellizza Da Volpedo. Some might argue that the seriousness is too sudden, but Mr. Fo likes to smack the audience in the head when they least expect it, and I found it fitting.
“Low Pay? Don’t Pay!” runs through Oct. 23 at the Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main St. Tickets are available at 847-
424-0089 or www.piccolotheatre.com.