'Pay' comes up short

Published June 3, 2006

TAMPA - Works such as We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! helped Italian playwright Dario Fo win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1997.

That would lead audiences to expect that Fo's comedy about struggling working-class families who resort to petty theft to survive is profound, or at least, substantial.

But the Jobsite Theater production is almost unadulterated silliness. The socio-political commentary alleged to be wrapped up in Fo's plays is pushed so far into the background that it's barely visible.

Nothing is wrong with silliness for its own sake, and if that's what you're in the mood for, this incarnation of We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! will suit you pretty well.

If you're looking for something weightier, the nonsense of the script and the shrillness of the production can become grating after a while, and downright maddening after an hour and a half or so.

Director David Jenkins, with some well-honed help from costume designer Katrina Stevenson, seasons the production with the unmistakable flavor of TV sitcoms from the 1950s. The frantic pace and the tone of the physical comedy recall I Love Lucy, and some of Stevenson's costumes pay clear homage to The Honeymooners.

The story revolves around a woman (Stevenson) who finds herself in the midst of an impromptu protest against rising supermarket prices and shoplifts some groceries.

Afraid to tell her law-and-order-loving husband (Ward Smith), and afraid of the police who are combing the neighborhood looking for purloined canned goods, she goes to ridiculous lengths to hide her ill-gotten booty. Her best friend hides some items under her coat, and then they invent a preposterous story about an unexpected pregnancy to explain her bulging abdomen.

As always in such plays, matters soon compound until simple indiscretions become impossibly intricate plots so that in the end, no one is really sure what is going on.

It's fun, but only up to a point. The manic pace becomes enervating. The stylized acting (very broad and presentational, with actors often addressing the audience directly) is appealing at first, but it wears out its welcome.

The few comments about inflation don't offer enough message for the madness. The characters aren't especially likeable, so it's not that apparent whether Fo wants us to see their thefts and coverups as noble until a blatantly political speech at the end.

Still, thanks to a very appealing cast (which also includes Michael McGreevy and Chris Holcom), We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! offers a decent amount of Nobel Prize-winning slapstick.


We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! runs through June 18 at the Shimberg Playhouse at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday. $16.50, $19.50, $21.50, plus service charge. (813) 229-7827; www.tbpac.org.