Dario Fo’s first version of the play They Don’t Pay? We Can’t Pay! premiered in the late 1970s (Originally in Italian as Non si paga! Non si paga!) and was not only played widely throughout Europe but made its way quickly to the San Francisco Mime Troup in the US and Tamanous Theatre in Canada, among other places, as an outrageous working class farce. (His other very famous play Accidental Death of an Anarchist made him one of the most produced playwrights in 20th century Europe.) Since that time he has revised it various times – as cultural and political conditions have changed. He even changed the title (Sottopaga! Non si paga!) He has opened up the original play so that it is less of a living room farce, and more of an epic theatre piece: a sort of boulevard theatre, with a subversive curtain adding a vaudeville element, adding the twist of putting some of the action out on the streets, bringing it somewhat closer to Brechtian theatre – only potentially much funnier.
In the more recent version, as we have received it—with great delight—from Fo translators Jon Laskin and Michael Aquilante, the social backdrop for this imaginative farce remains some form of recent economic collapse. In our production we find ourselves viewing a story of desperate people when banks and financial institutions in our own country are bailed out at the expense of taxpayers – who are losing their homes which are “under water” due to loans they can’t pay (This is not a departure from Fo’s script). Wages are forced down and people now have trouble buying the necessities to get by. In this regard Fo keeps the original plot of earlier versions from the 1980s and 1990s intact: working class women begin taking five-finger-discounts in grocery stores, and during a spate of evictions a resistance begins and the authorities close in.
In the spirit of Fo’s wish that very production of this play be topical for the time and place of the production, as we worked we placed our play in a mythical Newark, New Jersey. Newark, with its industry, its role as a transportation hub – much like Fo’s Milan–provided for us, a fitting American model. Italian place names and corporate institutions have been changed to American Equivalents. And while Fo previously reserved some his sharp barbs ever for “the Pope”—that is Pope Benedict—he has defended Pope Frances from “the forces around him” – causing us to improvise a few “tweaks” to this part of the satire.
Fo also seems occasionally to be writing with the recognition that non-commercial theatre is always
working with hard times – forced into multiple casting and peculiar set and design arrangements by
ever increasing budgetary restraints. To do a comedy or farce in these times, requires that we expand the repertory of beloved overclass farces from Noel Coward, Oscar Wilde, et al.
Therefore, as a tribute to the underclass created by the Great Recession, the bail-out of Wall Street, and even to our fellow “off-off” theatre companies working with little to create big artistic statement, we offer our underclass farce. Joe Martin, Director
DC PREMIERE of THEY DON’T PAY? WE WON’T PAY Opens March 3, 2016
SHOWS: March 3 – March 26, 2016 WED-SAT at 7:30 PM; SUN at 3 PM
At FLASHPOINT, 916 G Street, NW, Washington DC 20001