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‘We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!’

Cinnabar Theater’s production of “We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!” features Liz Jahren as Antonia, Samson Hood as Luigi, Nathan Cummings as Giovanni, Gary Grossman in several roles including Grandfather and Sarah McKereghan as Margherita.

Eric Chazankin
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 4:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 4:10 p.m.

Grocery prices rising? Job situation precarious? Not enough money to pay rent and utilities?

Facts

we won’t pay! we won’t pay!

When: Showtimes are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sunday Sept. 30 and Oct. 7.
Where: Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North.
Tickets: Tickets are $25 general, $22 seniors 65 and over; and $15 ages 22 and under.
Information: 763-8920 or visit www.cinnabartheater.org.

Sounds familiar — and not funny. But Cinnabar Theater offers a chance to laugh at these woes via its current production. Dario Fo’s social satire “We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!” is as relevant today, perhaps more so, than when it was first performed in 1974.

Fo, one of Italy’s best-known playwrights — a Marxist with a sense of humor — has created a roller coaster ride of absurdity perched on top of lunacy. It’s a good thing I don’t like reviews that give away much plot because “We Won’t Pay!” feels totally improvised, with the audience shaking their heads — between chuckles, giggles and belly laughs — trying to figure out where on earth this nutty story is going.

The five principal actors must go home after each performance in the Ex-Factor zone — equal parts Exhausted and Exhilarated. For this is an evening of commedia dell’arte — slapstick, if you prefer — comic timing, and theatrical teamwork. All five are sure and strong, vocally and physically, grabbing and grappling, leaping and lunging as they create an evening of “I Love Lucy” meets Karl Marx — or should that be Groucho Marx?

Liz Jahren (Antonia) and Nathan Cummings (Giovanni) are well-matched as a spirited working class couple whose clashing political beliefs are the springboard for the play. Both are equally skilled at making the audience think they’re making up crazy, stream-of-consciousness dialogue: hesitating, stalling, stating the next absurdity loudly and defiantly enough to convince the listener, then adeptly deflecting the “Hey, wait a minute” questions.

Cummings, by the way, is a dandy impressionist: moving with ease from a chicken to Tricky Dick Nixon.

Sarah McKereghan as Margherita, Antonia’s sidekick, deftly handles a role that’s far more physical than vocal, reaction rather than action, a wide-eyed and willing foil for Antonia’s crazy ideas and non-stop chatter.

Cinnabar patrons who enjoyed last season’s closer, “Born Yesterday,” will be pleased that two of its cast, Gary Grossman and Samson Hood, return in “We Won’t Pay.” I particularly enjoyed Hood’s Luigi, husband to Margherita, a big, decent, gentle, gullible guy who completely falls for Giovanni’s impossible yarns.

Grossman deftly handles a quartet of roles: policeman, state trooper, undertaker and grandfather. And Fo includes a big wink, wink, nudge, nudge to the audience, ensuring we delight in the fact one guy is playing four different parts.

“We Won’t Pay!” was produced at Cinnabar 20 years ago, recalled artistic director Elly Lichenstein, with herself and Laura Jorgensen as the female leads. This time around, Jorgensen has directed the production with her usual sure touch.

A big nod to costumer Diana Velika for dressing the actors in clothing that accentuates their characters: Jahren’s gaudy turquoise flowered top, McKereghan’s animal-print capris, Cummings’ well-worn plaid shirt and Hood’s surprising socks. And the outrageous costume is the character of Gary Grossman’s Undertaker.

Be prepared to enter a world that feels as if you’re tumbling down the rabbit hole. But it’s an amusing tumble, in which you’ll be reminded of the powers of caring, friendship, loyalty and love and humor — necessary elements in the world we live in.

Dario Fo’s “We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!” plays through Oct. 7 at Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North.

Tickets are $15 to $25 and available by calling 763-8920. For more information, visit cinnabartheater.org.

(Contact Katie Watts at argus@arguscourier.com)

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