The accessibility of Ranga Shankara, its ambience and the facilities it offers have been attracting a lot of new people into theatre as audience, volunteers and artistes. The theatre has, to some extent at least, bridged the gap between Kannada and English language theatre. The mixed audience it attracts has encouraged the birth of new theatre groups and new productions, often bi-lingual ones. Among such new theatre groups is Version One Dot Oh!, started by a bunch of young professionals who share a common passion for theatre. Inspired by the success of their first English language production, Sriranga's Listen, Janamejaya, the group has come up with its second production Can't Pay!, Won't Pay! by Dario Fo. These young professionals are also serving a social cause by contributing the proceeds of the production to Dream-a-Dream, an NGO working for the empowerment and integration of underprivileged children. Can't Pay!,Won't Pay! was premiered at Rangashankara recently.
Set in Italy in the 1970s, a time of social upheaval and economic crisis, Can't Pay!,Won't Pay! is a hilarious comedy which traces the struggle of two housewives to get away with shoplifting. When their trade unionist husbands fail to persuade the government to control the spiralling prices, these women discover their own ways of procuring food from the supermarket.
Their stomachs bulging with stolen shopping bags stuffed inside their jackets, they pass for pregnant women and escape detection. But these instant pregnancies get them into a series of awkward situations and they are forced to invent the most ingenious lies to get out of them. Since the men around them do not have half the brains they do, they do not have to try too hard to convince them.
Though the play is full of farcical situations and physical comedy, it does make a serious political statement against galloping inflation and the trampling of workers' rights in 1970s Italy. Fo makes no secret about where his sympathies lie. When, at the end, the highly moralistic Giovanni joins Luigi in smuggling bags of grain and sugar, we are persuaded to see this as his first act of wisdom.
The script is so devastatingly funny that the director's job was made easy. All that Krishna needed to make sure was that his actors (and he was one of them too!) got their timing right; and they did most of the time.
Surabhi was a lively Antonia while Vijay Arvind looked convincing as the gullible Giovanni. Farcical situations like the pregnant act, breaking of water, feeding the men with dog food and the silencing of the policeman were handled fairly competently. Sets and costumes were adequate.
Though the Italian accent added to the humour, it was a little overdone and was often at the expense of clarity. Whatever its shortcomings, Can't Pay, Won't Pay was so entertaining that one didn't mind the stormy weather or the fallen trees which made the trip to Rangashankara a real adventure.
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Chennai and Tamil Nadu