¡No Se Paga! We Won't Pay!
Teatro Vivo's kitchen-sink farce runs a little rough but funny
Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., Aug. 21, 2009
¡No Se Paga! We Won't Pay!
Salvage Vanguard Theater,
through Aug. 30
Running time: 2 hrs
Teatro Vivo's lively production-slash-adaptation of Dario Fo's We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! gives as its subtitle, "Who said a recession couldn't be funny?" This timely kitchen-sink farce laughs at the absurdities of life for the working poor, who bear the brunt of rising food costs and sorry wages.
It starts innocently enough. Earlier in the day, Antonia (Karen Alvarado) is trying to shop for groceries with the rent money when the manager announces that prices are going up again. Antonia offers a catchy line for the angry shoppers to chant, and suddenly a riot begins. Antonia grabs whatever she can and dashes home, only to discover herself in possession of a refrigerator's worth of stolen organic pet food and frozen rabbit heads.
Her friend Marguerita (Juanita Rivas) finds all this hilarious, until Antonia demands her participation. If Antonia's upstanding, strictly law-abiding husband, Juan (Mario Ramirez), returns home to discover his wife is a thief, he'll become furious. Marguerita's husband, Juan (Leonel Garza), won't be too thrilled, either; so the wives decide to stuff the loot under their coats and pose as pregnant women to evade the roaming police as they search for somewhere to hide their useless groceries. That goes about as well as you'd imagine.
Teatro Vivo switches things up. As with all of its shows, the play is performed in a mix of English and Spanish. Thanks to actors who know how to get their intentions across, audiences who don't speak Spanish will have no trouble following the story, which paints itself in bold strokes anyway. Teatro Vivo also fiddles with the script somewhat so that Antonia and Marguerita wish they'd stolen some tortillas and cilantro – not quite the cuisine of Dario Fo's native Italy. But mostly the script as-is translates well to this unnamed Spanish-speaking country full of working-class people with big imaginations and small pockets.
As directed by Alexis A. Arredondo, the production is a clumsy but well-intentioned affair. Alvarado, especially among the cast, has the bold energy that farce requires. If the company combined that exuberance with some occasional stillness and silence, or maybe just enough calmness to help actors occasionally stay in one place as they deliver their lines, the show would really triumph. As it is, it's almost there: Costumes are well-chosen but ill-fitting; the set pieces of the run-down kitchen almost come together but seem just outside the actors' control, falling down and flapping open – maybe intentionally but maybe not.
Teatro Vivo presents ¡No Se Paga! We Won't Pay! as a ridiculous comedy with a heart that's sympathetic to the working poor. The timing is right, and the workings are all there, but the motor of the production runs a little rough.