Eastenders' "Fo/Faux!" revisits, and riffs on, Dario Fo's We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay!
THEATER Leave it to a small and scrappy low-to-no-budget theater company to revive, at just the right time, Dario Fo's We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! Fo, Italy's esteemed latter-day commedia dell'arte rabble-rouser — the first clown (who really is a clown) to win a Nobel Prize — crafted this gem in inspired response to another period of social-economic bullshit, the tumultuous mid-1970s, when Italy was suffering the brunt of the "stagflation" resulting from an oil-triggered worldwide downturn. Fo's 1974 farce draws on the real-life price rebellions and grocery-store riots carried out by Italy's (financially) desperate housewives for a very funny and pointed tale of revolutionary high jinx in the domestic sphere. And Eastenders' production, confidently helmed by artistic director Susan E. Evans, does it full justice. But the company doesn't stop there: the second half of the evening is devoted to one of two series of new shorts plays (running in repertory) that take the Fo piece and run with it, in varying contemporary directions.
We Won't Pay! takes up the bulk of the evening and remains the highlight, however, especially in Ron Jenkins' lively translation, delivered shrewdly by a strong cast with palpable personality and fine comic instincts. Its homey scenario connects the personal and political effortlessly, as a bright working-class housewife named Antonia (a deft and utterly charming Beatrice Basso) tries to hide from her morally upstanding husband, Giovanni (a drolly pompous yet amiable Craig Dickerson), the groceries stolen in an exhilarating impromptu rebellion at the local market. Upright citizens and the coercive unjust hierarchies they protect are, of course, turned right on their head in the process. Even the policeman who shows up at the door (one of several supporting roles essayed with skill and aplomb by Matt Weimer) has had about enough of the whole system. By the end, an agitprop spirit takes over as Giovanni spouts what by now seems the most commonsensical thing — rebellion — as curtain and forth wall come down.
Often cleaving a little too closely to the original material, the playlets that follow in the second act can have the feel of an exercise rather than a fully wrought play of whatever length. But there are some small surprises to be found along the way. Actor Jeff Thompson strikes just the right pitch of whimsy and incipient political consciousness as he digests what has just gone before from the perspective of an incidental stage property, namely A Frozen Rabbit Head, in Gene Mocsy's playful monologue of the same name. And playwright Isaiah Dufort's A Statement shifts the opening scene between Antonia (Tristan Cunningham) and neighbor Margherita (Katarina Fabic) just enough to give it a distinctly Bay Area edge, nicely realized by the actors under Amy K. Kilgard's direction. Less satisfying are the next two in the series, Jeff Thompson's The Report, which strains after meaning and humor in a beat cop's political awakening, and Scott Munson's Safeway Encounter, which begins promisingly but soon gets off-kilter, charging headlong down broadly absurd aisles of no return. In the end, it's a mixed bag, rabbit heads and all, but nourishing just the same.
Wed/17-Sat/20, 8 p.m.; Sun/21, 2 p.m., $20
215 Jackson, SF