By Kaitlin Lyle
Looking closely into the issues of today, the Central Connecticut State University Theatre Department achieved an impeccable production in beginning its 2016-17 season with Dario Fo’s “We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!” Following a guest lecture by Ron Jenkins, the show’s translator, in September and a series of steadfast rehearsals, the culmination of the cast and crew’s dedicated work was discernable in last week’s performances.
Directed by Jan Mason, the story behind “We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!” is a testimony to the individuals who, driven by hunger, struggled to survive during the rampant inflation of the 1970’s. The play focused on the lives of two married couples and their reaction to the “autoriduzione” movement that struck Italy as well as the United States. After making the decision to pay the prices of their choosing, the couples maneuver within troublesome (and frequently hysterical) situations in order to get by. Within the first few minutes of Act One, the show’s title arose in the chant of the women refusing to pay the rising costs of their groceries. As the fiery heroine Antonia proclaims, “It was the shopping spree to end all shopping sprees! Not because we didn’t pay for the stuff, but because suddenly we were all there together with the courage to stand up for ourselves.” From the moment Antonia and Margherita decide to react against the injustice, the ensuing turn of events produced a riotous narrative that demonstrated the buoyant nature of the human spirit during a time of economic hardship.
The show ran from Oct, 11 to the 15 at the Black Box Theater of Maloney Hall, including two preview showings on the 11 and 12 and a free morning matinee on Oct. 14. The CCSU rendition of Dario Fo’s political farce featured a cast of five, including one performer who took on several roles that intermingled uproariously throughout the plot.
Actor Dustin Luangkhot exhibited a remarkable talent for comedy in playing a “utopian subversive” sergeant, a rigorous trooper, an undertaker with an Italian accent, and a senile grandfather, much to the bewilderment of Nick Carrano’s Giovanni. Senior Carrano conveyed a majority of the show’s feverish monologues with an artistic zeal, delighting the audience with his eccentric interpretations of the surrounding events. When paired with Orianna Cruz, who starred as the inventive Antonia, the duo was as dynamic in their lively interactions as the late Lucille Ball and Ricky Ricardo.
While rehearsing the nonsensical humor of Dario Fo’s work, Orianna Cruz found Fo to be an animated playwright, especially in his ability to fuse comedy with strong political meanings. “It is unusual, but very liberating because of the fact that, right now, people perform comedy just for the sake of entertainment and it kind of gets old after a while,” said Cruz.
In agreement, actor Kendra Garnett, who starred in the play as Margherita, described “We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!” as “commedia dell’arte.” “It isn’t just a comedy in that the only reason to be there is to be funny,” said Garnett. “It was also made to get a point across and it has a big message for everyone to take with them.” In her fourth mainstage production, sophomore Garnett was vibrant in her movements onstage as her character reacted to the madcap situations around her.
Alongside Margherita, her husband Luigi, played by senior Alex Szwed, shifts from internalizing the newfound societal inequalities to going along with his companions’ absurd means for survival, particularly in his scenes with Giovanni. The experience of “We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!” marks Szwed’s final mainstage production with the CCSU Theatre Department as well as his last collaboration with director Jan Mason. “I’m so grateful for this theater department,” said Szwed. “It has instilled great confidence in me, it has opened so many doors for so many great relationships, and I’m very sad and gracious in leaving.”
As an unexpected surprise, the cast and crew paid a kind tribute to the memory of playwright, Dario Fo, who passed away in Milan last Thursday, during their official opening night on Oct. 13. “He was definitely in our thoughts all day,” said Garnett, who observed that Fo’s passing altered the mood of their performance onstage. “It felt like we were definitely more doing it for him.”
Throughout the hysteria of the storyline as well as its timeless themes of desperation and determination, “We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!” created a lasting impression on its audience, delivering riotous laughter for their enjoyment and inspiring them with the plays underlying message. For a production that pinpoints the rising cost of living, the talent found at the Black Box Theater last week was undoubtedly worth the price.