By Katie Stewart
Assistant Director, We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!

How often is rebellion associated with laughter? In the case of Nobel-prize winning playwright Dario Fo, the answer is always! Intiman’s production of We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay! this summer features the work of a playwright who actively challenges everything that is around us (and our tendency to accept it at face value) and wraps it within a joke. He said in an interview, “I’m interested in discovering the basic contradictions in a situation through the use of paradox, absurdity, and inversion. This enables me to transform one reality into another reality, not as a trick, but so people will understand that reality is not flat…”

Dario Fo

The reality that Fo was facing when this play was published was bleak. Living in Turin, Italy, during the economic crisis of the1970s, Fo was seeing workers oppressed, families left homeless, police brutality, and the idle government standing by. The country had reached a boiling point, and Fo was among the many citizens who had had enough. So he took that anger and did something amazing: He wrote a farce.

Jane Nichols has made it clear to all of us in the rehearsal room that this is a play that starts with being angry, angry that the injustices that Fo was commenting on – unemployment, evictions, oppression, starvation and lower-class struggle – are still so relevant almost half a century later. Throughout the play the characters themselves are frustrated and angry as they try to survive. It is that need to endure that can lead to laughter. We have a choice: to boil with rage and take to the streets or to spin our perspective around, look at it from another point of view, and burst out laughing.

We’ve all used this form of survival before: when we’ve looked at a reality so dismal and, like Fo, reached through to find a different reality where there was paradox and even comedy. For my family, that moment came earlier this spring. My mother, who recently began her chemo treatment for breast cancer, called me on the phone to tell me that she had been to the wig shop. And they didn’t have any wigs in her size. Because her head is too big. I felt myself shaking, and realized it was from laughter. We laughed together because we actively chose not to cry.

Why would anybody want to see misfortune made fun of? Why come to this show at all? You don’t perform a farce to tell the legacy of a particular brave person, or to relate to the audience an important history. A farce is about the storytelling experience itself, the isolated hour or two when the audience and actors are intimately close, sharing energy with each other. We all know how precious that is. That moment when you look up on stage and burst out laughing, or nod your head, or feel complete empathy with the characters in front of you. It’s brief, but invaluable.

This summer We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay! really is about the experience. Fast, impulsive and real, this play makes the choice to smile and dance during a revolution. It will make you laugh, it will make you think, and it will, as Fo intended, make your vision of reality more complex. A true ensemble show, with a narrative that depicts human perseverance, this story has no hero. No one character will demonstrate incredible strength or honor. Instead, they all have a whole lot of one thing: humanity. And only together can they survive.