They Don’t Pay, We Won’t Pay! (Sottopaga! Non si paga!) is one of the greatest European comedies of the 20th Century, which caused the future Nobel Prize-winning playwright Dario Fo to be brought to trial for incitement. This working class farce set during a time of economic collapse, begins with an episode of mass shoplifting by working class women from food stores, due to price hikes. It soon converges with the shipping of cheap contraband food from Asia as well as work stoppages and strikes. As a result of the “liberation” of food from grocery stores, a peculiar number of pregnant-looking women in coats are being pursued by the authorities everywhere. One of these working class women, Antonia, must deal with her legalistic husband, Giovanni—a union member who plays by the rule-book. She must also explain the unexpected “pregnancy” of his best friend Luigi’s wife, Marghareta, a fact that Giovanni in turn “reveals” to Marghareta’s husband. But soon the raids by authorities seeking contraband food close in on their neighborhood, and chaos ensues.
Though the piece has been called a “comedy of hunger” it is also about the bigger financial farce that results if the victims of financial collapse—brought about by capitalism run-amok—are asked to pay for the disaster while the guilty parties are bailed out.
This play by a master playwright and performer, is both physical comedy and a comedy of wit, sometimes in “boulevard” style. Fo has roots in Commedia dell’Arte, and the influence shows in this modern farce. In awarding him the Nobel Prize for Literature—there is no theatre category!—the Nobel committee remarked in 1997 that Dario Fo “emulates the jesters of the Middle Ages in scourging authority and upholding the dignity of the downtrodden.”
Quick Note: We will not be playing the piece “Italian”—but will re imagine it in the New York City area: specifically, ethnic and industrial Newark, which matches the community depicted in the play socioeconomically. (Newark is also a likely town for actions against trains and transit (which are in the play) among other things. Joe Martin