REVIEW: Low Pay? No Pay! (Piccolo Theatre)

The workers’ sweet revenge

 Piccolo Theatre of Evanston - Low Pay, No Pay 001

Piccolo Theatre presents
Low Pay? No Pay!
Written by Dario Fo
Directed by John Szostek
at Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main, Evanston (map)
through October 23  |  tickets: $15-$25 |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

This may be the worst of all possible times to be a banker, broker, or “master of the universe.” Masters of disaster, more like it, since the economic crisis has revealed as never before what a house of cards our financial system has been, what a gambling den deregulation has turned the stock market into, and furthermore, what a perfidious and ineffectual democracy we have in its wake. Into the fray comes Piccolo Theatre with its ribald production of Low Pay? No Pay!, a slapstick comedy by Italian playwright and Nobel Prize winner Dario Fo. Be prepared for Italian socialism on the rocks. Director John Szostek and cast certainly rock it till it pops.

Of course, if you’re a Tea Partier or Rush Limbaugh or you still think that unregulated capitalism is the only cure for what ails us, this may not be your kind of comedy. No, it’s a play for taxpayers looking for a little comic revenge against the capitalist system, even if they’re not so sure about the alternatives. Come one, come all! –to Dario Fo’s manic festival of jibes against financial shell games, irresponsible political parties, battling ideologies and the hysterically desperate tactics of the working poor trying to survive. Oh, and let’s not leave out slams against religion.

Low Pay Don't PayAntonia (Brianna Sloane) and Margherita (Amy Gorelow) return home to Antonia’s apartment, laden with groceries. Antonia has just stolen them in a shoppers’ rebellion from the local supermarket. Prices have escalated to twice as high as in the last month and the working class Italian housewives aren’t taking it anymore.

Since a riot has broken out and Antonia and Margherita have gotten away with some of the booty, Antonia has to hide her stash before her law-and-order working class husband, Giovanni (Ken Raabe), gets home. Margherita stuffs her share of food under her coat, creating an all-too-noticeable bump that Giovanni can’t help but notice when he comes home. Antonia lies to her husband, telling him that Margherita is pregnant. But Giovanni cannot understand why his friend and co-worker Luigi (Glenn Proud), who is also Margherita’s husband, would not tell him about the coming baby. Antonia covers further, by saying that Margherita has been hiding the pregnancy from Luigi.

And so it goes. The lies build up, both on Antonia and Giovanni’s part, and the hilarity ensues over characters trying to maintain them. Old formulas, tried and true–but, still, congratulations to Szostek’s well-honed cast. Prepare to see pairings as classic as Lucy and Ethel, Rickie and Fred or, for the guys, Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton. In American terms, Low Pay? No Pay! is “I Love Lucy” meets “The Honeymooners” meets Inspector Clouseau—only this Inspector (David W.M. Kelch) is Italian, is a bit quick with the handcuffs and his mustache keeps falling off.

Low Pay Don't Pay Low Pay Don't Pay

Ken Raabe reprises his role as Giovanni from Piccolo’s inaugural production. His confidence and expertise with the role shines through. Amy Gorelow’s frustrated and run-around Margherita is a delightful, sweet gal pal to Sloane’s chatty and devious Antonia. Kelch does yeoman-like work in four different roles—my favorites were his Undertaker and Old Man. Proud’s performance as Luigi is as nice a prole as they come. Joel Thompson brings up the rear with his turn as the Inspector’s assistant police officer; only his comic timing could use some refining. Thank goodness he really sells the officer coming out of the closet. Goofy, good-natured fun is the key to Szostek’s direction. As much as upper class institutions and their political lackeys get their comeuppance, the whole cast keeps the comedy light, silly and fast-paced.

Lucky for them, the playwright allows changes in his material in order to keep up with our current events. Only the play’s ending doesn’t translate so well from its Italian origins. That’s because Italy’s social and political reality is not ours; its modern cultural creations could never be an easy fit for Americans who don’t know their history. All the same, these last 10 minutes are more than forgivable for a full two-hours of comic revenge. Piccolo’s revival is well worth that.

Rating: ★★★½

 Low Pay Don't Pay

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REVIEW: Unveiled (Next Theatre)

When Clothing Makes, or Unmakes, the Woman


Rohina Malik, pictured in a scene from her powerful one-woman show "Unveiled" - currently part of the "What's Next Series" at Next Theatre of Evanston

Next Theatre presents
Written by Rohina Malik
Directed by Kevin Heckman
at Next Theatre, 927 Noyes, Evanston (map)
through September 19  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Rohina Malik’s one-act play, Unveiled, could not have come at a more crucial moment. Hate crimes against Muslims are up, Muslims are denied opportunities to build places of worship all over the US (including Chicago), established mosques face vandalism and arson, and a self-righteous nut case in Florida threatened to burn the Koran to get national attention. Meanwhile, it’s an election year and job recovery crawls at a snail’s pace. Too many people are out of work and too many people still think Barack Obama is a secret Muslim.

Rohina Malik, pictured in a scene from her powerful one-woman show "Unveiled" - currently part of the "What's Next Series" at Next Theatre of Evanston Directed by Kevin Heckman at Next Theatre, five Muslim women, each from a different culture, share two things in common: they all wear the veil, or hijab, and they all live in the West. What must it be like to be so visibly different from other women and be rendered a moving target by American uncertainty, fear and rage over 9/11? Malik unveils a Muslim womanhood that meets this challenge with strength, outspokenness, clarity, poetry, humor and faith.

These hardly seem like women cloistered behind a wall of restrictive and repressive tradition. They are very aware of the world they live in and its ongoing melding of East and West. They fiercely and graciously adhere to their principles of hospitality. They speak up for themselves, drawing from a deep well of cultural riches.

The first woman designs wedding dresses from her small shop on Devon Avenue. Yet she is no mere seamstress. In every way she is an artist. “You’re not the first American girl who wants the Bollywood look,” she chats up her current client. “All the girls have wanted it since ‘Slumdog Millionaire.’” Wedding dresses are her art and that art is just as dependent on the personality of the client as her own imagination. “You are not choosing me. I am choosing you,” she tells the prospective bride.

Weddings and family are what she knows, but a hate crime almost destroys her drive as an artist. Attending the wedding of a woman getting married in one of her creations, she and her children become the targets of the inchoate rage of an American couple attending another wedding nearby. What brings her back to her art again are her friends and a poem by Rumi: “Dance, when you’re broken. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. . . Dance, when you’re perfectly free.”

Malik’s one-act starts strong. Her characters are not just Muslim, not just from the Middle East or South East Asia; their multicultural backgrounds position them uniquely in the world. One is a Texan mother of the American South, not converting, but “reverting” to Islam. The other is a hip hop teen raised in West London who can’t stand her mother’s assimilationist choices. This girl’s own reaction to her mother’s generation has to do with the way her mom applied lemons to her daughter’s skin, when she was younger, to make it whiter.

Malik clearly wants to show a wide range of Muslim women and their individual reasons for claiming the veil. As such, most of her characters’ psychology is well-developed and their life stories powerfully integrate tradition, poetry and passages from the Koran. Of all the characters, only the Southern Muslim belle seems the weak and underdeveloped one. Upon opening night, Malik’s performance of this character also waned in accuracy. Her troubles with American Southern dialect were too apparent.

Rohina Malik, pictured in a scene from her powerful one-woman show "Unveiled" - currently part of the "What's Next Series" at Next Theatre of Evanston Rohina Malik, pictured in a scene from her powerful one-woman show "Unveiled" - currently part of the "What's Next Series" at Next Theatre of Evanston
Rohina Malik, pictured in a scene from her powerful one-woman show "Unveiled" - currently part of the "What's Next Series" at Next Theatre of Evanston Rohina Malik, pictured in a scene from her powerful one-woman show "Unveiled" - currently part of the "What's Next Series" at Next Theatre of Evanston Rohina Malik, pictured in a scene from her powerful one-woman show "Unveiled" - currently part of the "What's Next Series" at Next Theatre of Evanston

Of greater concern is the play’s repetitious monologue structure—the introduction of tea, the particular tea made the emblem of each Muslim woman’s culture; the introduction of a story which reveals a violent hate crime; and finally the character resorts to faith and culture to stand against it–by the time the fourth and fifth characters are introduced, the pattern becomes worn. Also, physical violence and verbal harassment are the only kinds of hate crime and speech directly addressed by these characters. Beyond the introduction of strong, self-determining Muslim women, Malik digs no further into the ways feminist critiques of the veil have been based on cultural and religious ignorance, and thus used as an excuse to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. Certainly, American feminists had to learn the hard way just how their work could be used by a right wing administration to further its imperialist ambitions.

Next’s production itself runs almost seamlessly and poetically. Unfortunately, sound problems, at opening, rendered the rap from the young hip hop Londoner almost indiscernible. The fuzz from the speaker system, cranked up to play over the drums, got in the way of the script.

However, no one can dispute the essential timeliness of this play, or its vitality and humanism. In the middle of anti-Muslim hysteria, how hopeful it is to discover a promising young playwright just beginning to explore terribly relevant themes. Next should be applauded for opening their season with such immediate work from a practically unknown playwright. Unveiled’s series of monologues has strong bones and beautiful language. The incorporation of Alex Wing’s music and Cynthia Sopata’s movement beautifully correspond to and amplify the storytelling. Rohina Malik is one to watch. Get to know her.

Rating: ★★½

Rohina Malik, in the poster for her powerful one-woman show "Unveiled" - currently part of the "What's Next Series" at Next Theatre of Evanston

Productions Personnel

Written and performed by Rohina Malik
Directed by Kevin Heckman
Scenic & Lighting Design by Jim Davis

Music by Alex Wing

Movement by Cynthia Sopata