Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region  

A local conflict between a group of Italian housewives and the manager of a small town food store sets off the action within the first minutes. Fo doesn’t waste any time! The women realize the store has raised food prices and the locals can’t afford to buy food any more. Even now the play is still up to date! Lead by the vibrant Antonia (Emi Lanthier) outspoken activist for consumer’s rights, the opinions of the shoppers become physical, tempers flare, a full-fledged riot breaks out. The play opens as Antonia and her friend Margherita (Charlotte Weeks) come bursting into Antonia’s apartment with bags of food they have stolen from the store during the riot, after proclaiming a general strike by all the people in the story! We will no longer pay for food they chant!! . What will the husbands say? How will they hide the food they have stolen. ? What can they do to avoid any more problems? How will other groups of workers react to this outrageous and very courageous showing of social consciousness and solidarity?

Non si paga! Non si paga ! (1974) has become one of Fo’s signature plays, along with The Accidental Death of an Anarchist. Note that La Compagnie du Trillium did a brilliant performance of this piece in 1984 with Eudore Belzile as the anarchist. The actor even managed to blow smoke out of both his ears at once in that famous cigarette scene that brought the house down.

Fo’s popular theatre goes way back to the Commedia dell’arte, traditional farce, cabaret and comic sketches which highlight his frantic mime and expressive corporeal work, emphasizing his clear political message aimed at the working classes and a devastating critique of the ruling classes. Theatre for him became a political act. He often performed with his wife, Franca Rame (until her death) in factories, cultural centres, local municipal spaces and places where the public was ready to hear his messages. The fact he highlights two women in this play shows he was also very much interested in the role of women in the class struggle, this was also the focus of most of Rame’s work as well .

Not only are the plays uproariously funny (listen to his parody of Italian politics as Antonia lists all the nuances of left wing political tendencies that are grappling with the social crisis) but they are based on Fo’s own theories of corporeal acting which are the backbone of his plays. Director Mary Ellis has understood the nature of Fo’s theatre and done her best to integrate this frantic physical style of performance into her cast of Algonquin students

Outstanding was the Emi Lanthier as the overbearing, energetic Antonia , the outspoken ringleader of the strike. She uses her whole body to speak her revolt as her arms fling, her head spins, her whole face gets involved and her voice is a marvellous expression of the angry wife with a good touch of self-mockery , the woman who will not be stopped. Next to her is her friend played by Charlotte Weeks who has to pile on the boxes of pasta around her belly , pretending she is pregnant so she can hide the stolen food from her husband,. Then she screams and carries on so the men in her life will take her seriously. That whole episode was beautiful! Weeks were very strong in this role as well and In fact, the two of them aligned their corporeal rhythms so that director Ellis was able to create a perfect comic duo that had us all in stitches.

Tristan Wong, as Antonia’s husband Giovanni, did his best to keep up with the women even though his moves suggested a big city “homeboy” and less a Mediterranean mime artist which was not his fault of course . This kind of acting takes years to perfect and It is doubtful that the company at Algonquin was able to devote all that time to actor training. Still, Mary Ellis brought across the “feel” of the play allowing the more talented actors to show us what they were able to do, even choreographing some excellent moments of group play that responded to the rhythms of the text. The other performers where much weaker but in spite of the different levels of acting, the director kept the pace and the tone going beautifully, holding our attention by emphasizing the funny elements of the text and then creating an ending that was very uplifting. Note that this is a recent translation by Jon Laskin and Michael Aquilante that Fo’s agent wanted the group to use. Fo’s plays are typically open-ended as it were and can adapt to current events, We clearly hear how contemporary vocabulary and references have entered into the discussion in this version of the English text.

Not an easy piece of theatre for a cast where actor training is not necessarily the main focus of the group. For that reason one has to congratulate this group and the director for producing an event that was highly entertaining and that respected the spirit of the play.

They Won’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! Continues until May 6 Wednesdy to Saturday ag 7h30 pm with matinees on Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. They play at the Algonquin College school of Media and Design, Woodroffe Campus, 1385 Woodroffe Ave. just behind College Square.

Call 613- 727- 4723

They Won’t Pay? We Won’t Pay! By Dario Fo, translated by Jon Laskin and Michael Aquilante

Directed by Mary Ellis , set design by Brian Smith, costume design by Vanessa Imeson, lighting design by Fred Malpass and sound design by Sam McCarthy. Production manager by Richard Cliff and Lynn Cox. A production of the Algonquin college theatre programme. 


Agent Elie Dib

Antonia Emi Lanthier

Margherita Charlotte Week

Giovanni Tristan Wong

Luigi Jared de Vries

Policeman etc Rebecca McDonald

Policeman, etc Stephanie Osei-Prempeh

Father Amanuel Abebe