By Diego Olivares
“They Won’t Pay? We Won’t Pay!” is a surreal and wild theater experience. It’s the kind of play that could leave its audience feeling drained, from pure laughter. The play makes its first ever premiere in the U.S. with a bang.
The story centers on the chaotic misadventures of two couples which span over an intense day dealing with shoplifting, false pregnancies, federal agents, coffins, and men who look the same.
Most of the play-takes place in a single apartment, nonetheless. Underscoring the story’s madcap humor is a curious look at worker’s rights and negative economic side effects.
Performances were filled with a manic energy that brings to mind a ‘50s sitcom.
Kathryn Ventress is manically good as Antonia, a woman who tries to hide stolen food for her husband. Cassandra Gutierrez gives a nice performance as Margherita, Antonia’s helpless sidekick.
Fredo Cervantes brings a sense of dramatic frustration to his role of Luigi. James Akingbade pulls the toughest act of playing multiple roles, including that of a federal agent. Akingbade is able to make them all hilarious as a result.
While all these actors give great comic performances, it’s easily Mario Valdez who steals the show as the ultra high-energy Giovanni. He delievers the best jokes every time he is on stage. Seeing both Valdez and Cervantes on stage together is like watching Laurel and Hardy come to life.
Theater Director Vanessa Mizzone provides the actors with good direction.
She is able to give these performers the comic energy and physical humor that brings to mind “I Love Lucy.”
The humor never felt overdone. Every time there was comic set piece, it’s given the level of humor that is never over-the-top.
Set mainly in Antonia and Giovanni’s apartment, the set design brings a level of realism. The set helps create a world that these characters are meant to live in. From this, the more surreal moments are never over done.
The play also takes an offbeat approach to its storytelling. At times, it becomes self-aware which adds to its surreal humor. One humorous example is when Antonia and Margherita have to leave the apartment.
They mention to each other that they have to “change the set.” The play takes that self-awareness and runs with it. It makes the play more interesting to watch and enjoy.
The story is rich with offbeat humor that makes the play a wonderful viewing experience. Underlying the humor is a serious topic focusing on the subject of worker’s right, the play does a good job presenting it.
However, the play has some flaws. While the design and storyline suggests a period piece, much of the characters makes references to current issues that relate to our current time.
The political and social themes could have been done more subtlety with themes of that time which makes the message too obvious and less effective. While the play has these flaws, it still doesn’t ruin the experience. It is a lot of fun to watch.
“They Won’t Pay? We Don’t Pay!” is the wild adventures of two couples’ journey through a insane day of wicked surrealism, political and social issues, and foolish misunderstanding.
The play will run through Sunday, Oct. 20.