Hanine El Mir
The Lebanese American University’s major production of the semester “Can’t Pay! Won’t Pay!” opened on Tuesday, March 14, and ran through the week until Sunday. It was adapted from an Italian play and directed by Lina Abyad.
It is considered to be the first feminist comedy play written by Dario Fo, who wrote several later on with his wife. It also has a prominent communist theme that examines the inequalities between the classes of society and the way the state negatively treats poor people as opposed to how tolerant it is of the rich.
One of the characters, Tony (played by Sany Abdul Baki), is very strict when it comes to following the rules. He is against protests and riots, and would rather suffer under oppressive laws. He embodies the struggle of the proletariat, who suffer under the system but cannot afford to complain or leave their work.
The women of the town spark the revolution and play a big part in it, while the police officer agrees that a revolution is necessary and finds himself in a double identity situation, questioning the system. “You are speaking like the disorderly hooligans,” Tony tells the officer who even calls him “rafiq” (comrade) by the end of the scene.
The same officer plays two characters, both representing higher authorities: the town and the security forces. This could be interpreted as the gap between his conflicting identities. It seems as though he has to choose between siding with the people or with the state.
One key scene is when both female main characters were leaving the house and one of them firmly tells her husband, Tony, not to interfere in what doesn’t pertain to him, and that, “This is a women’s issue; you stay at home and clean the mess.” It is followed by a scene of Tanios, the other husband, cooking while they both chat in the kitchen, a sight typically involving women.
“It was through playing our roles that we found this dynamic between both characters and what helped us is our size together as a couple,” Abdul Baki commented humorously on his character’s relationship with his wife.
The way the show is presented is innovative and the type of humor is one that isn’t typical. The characters often break the fourth wall to speak with the stage managers, shift the set around or complain about having to repeat a certain scene before repeating it. It even involved audience participation, like getting the crowd to transport some bags to the back to hide them from the police.
“Can’t Pay! Won’t Pay!” is very similar to an average Lebanese citizen’s life. To say that the topic is relevant to Lebanon’s current affairs would be an understatement, especially with the announcement of the taxes increase on Thursday.
“This is when you realize that a piece written in 1972 in Italy can be very contemporary after 40 years. It’s how theatre really talks to people about their problems and issues,” director Lina Abyad confirmed.
Abyad and Fo succeeded in presenting a highly political topic in a delightfully cheerful way, wrapped in a time capsule that allows the viewer to relate to the characters no matter in which year or century they’re being exposed to the story.