“Can’t Pay? Don’t Pay!” @ Actors’ Gang

As the presidential election is upon us and the subjects of socialism vs. corporatocracy dominate the political landscape, Culver City’s own Actors’ Gang throws its hat in the ring of social commentary with its highly enjoyable adaptation of Nobel Prize-winning playwright Dario Fo’s Can’t Pay, Don’t Pay.

Fo, known for his left-leaning farces (such as Accidental Death of an Anarchist, which the Gang produced last season), turns his lens on the working class and their struggles to survive in a world increasingly dominated by corporations that put more emphasis on profits over people. The play opens with Antonia (Kaili Hollister) and her best friend Margherita (Lynde Houck) frantically bursting into Antonia’s apartment laden with bags filled with groceries. Antonia proceeds to explain to Margherita that a mob of women (and a few men) revolted against the local supermarket raising prices yet again, looting the place shouting “Can’t pay, won’t pay.” Antonia joined in, and thus the many bags of stolen goods. When Antonia realizes she won’t be able to explain her newfound abundance to her law-abiding husband, she talks Margherita into taking some of the haul, hiding the rest under the bed. When Antonia’s husband Giovanni (Jeremie Loncka) returns unexpectedly, Margherita hides her bags under her coat, and in the ensuing conversation between husband and wife, Antonia convinces Giovanni that Margherita is pregnant.
Soon the police come to search the apartment for the stolen goods and Margherita returns. Margherita pretends to be in labor to distract the cops and soon the cops escort her and Antonia out to find the paramedics for help. Giovanni is surprised by Margherita’s husband, Luigi (Thomas Roche) looking for his wife. Chaos ensues as the men, who are trying to find the women, soon become embroiled in their own theft of ill-gotten gains (after finding out they will be laid off) and the women try to figure out how to keep the police and their husbands from finding the stolen groceries.

Cam Deaver’s translation brings the play into the current moment with plenty of references to modern American newsmakers while retaining the spirit of Fo’s Italian Marxist roots. Director Bob Turton has done an extraordinary job with the plays’ frenetic action, and our quartet of actors, ably added by Steven M. Porter and Danielle Powell in multiple roles, tear through the dialogue with the comedic timing of 30’s screwball comedies (think Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell or Katherine Hepburn). The frantic pace built by this remarkable team is a bit betrayed by the anticlimactic evening but the fun they seem to be having on stage is infectious and the audience leaves the audience on a high. Production design is simple but fun, with Rynn Vogel’s modern costume designs synching with the 50’s tenement feel of director Turton’s sets.

While this play won’t make you forget the current state of things, it will allow you to find some catharsis in the humor of the absurdity of it all.

Brenna Guthrie

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The Actors' Gang

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