Friday, September 1, 2017

"We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay!" by Candid Theater Company at the Black Forest Inn

Jacleen Olson and Shanna Eisenberg
(photo by Christopher Mogel)
I last saw Candid Theater Company in 2014 at the People's Center Theater on the U of M campus, a space that is no longer. I'm not sure why I haven't seen them in three years, but I was happy to catch their funny, relevant, and intimate production of the 1974 Italian play We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! last night. Performed in the charmingly kitschy banquet hall of the Black Forest Inn, just off their lovely outdoor patio, the play tells the story of two families who cannot pay their bills due to wage cuts and layoffs. Forty years later and in a different country than where it originated, it feels like a current problem, and a few modern references are added in the English translation (although the strictly defined gender roles remind us we're in the past). It's a funny farce of a play, one that almost makes you forget the issues behind the comedy, timely issues of fair wages, unemployment, and the rising cost of living.

The play begins when Antonia (Shana Eisenberg) returns from the grocer with bags and bags of food. Her friend Margarita (Jacleen Olson) is astounded that she was able to buy so much when they have so little. Antonia confesses that she and the other women turned their shopping day into a "pay what you can" day, and walked out with the food they needed without paying much, or anything. Antonia doesn't think her law-abiding husband Giovanni (Corey DiNardo) will understand, and the police (David Wasserman and Jack C. Kloppenborg, who also play multiple other roles) have begun conducting searches, so the women plot to transport the food to a safe location by hiding it under their fabulous coats, making everyone think they're pregnant. Thus begins the farce as the lies pile up and become more and more elaborate (including fetus transplants, pickle juice, and reviving dead people). Finally the roller coaster stops as the lies unravel, and we're left with the sobering truth of the situation.

The play is performed in what I like to call the Ten Thousand Things style, meaning the stage is just a square on the floor with a few rows of chairs on each side and the lights up. This makes for a raw, intimate, and in your face experience (sometimes literally, if you're sitting in the front row). Under director Justin M. Kirkeberg, the cast has great fun with the broad comedy of the piece, fake mustaches, false bellies, odd props, and all, with a couple of knowing winks at the audience. Their expressions, reactions, and over-reactions are also great fun for the audience to watch, for the most part anyway. This feels like a piece that should be 90 minutes no intermission (although maybe that was just the sleep-inducing Spätzle, Käse, und Bier talking). But there is indeed an intermission, which feels a bit awkward in the space and only serves to break the momentum of the crazy story.

Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! continues through September 8 and makes for an enjoyable evening, especially when combined with some German food and beer in the late summer Minnesota outdoors.