Theater Review: CAN’T PAY? DON’T PAY! (The Actors’ Gang)

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by Tony Frankel on April 2, 2022

in Theater-Los Angeles


While loading items into my trunk after shopping at a Fortune 500 store recently, I realized that an item had gone unchecked by the cashier. My instinct, naturally, was to make a 360 and go back into the store. Then I halted. This item was necessary to repair something in my apartment that my deadbeat millionaire landlords refused to fix. I shoved the item in the trunk and, while driving home, grew immediately furious. How did it come to this? Stealing, albeit unintentionally at first.

Well, I had been unceremoniously kicked out of my apartment in Culver City after 33 years without financial compensation (no rent control), and found a new apartment costing double the rent. The landlord assured me that he wouldn’t raise the rent, which I verified with other tenants. But then he sold the building two months later to a German/South American dynasty, who has not only raised the rent yearly, but has fought me on every necessary fix (I’ve had the city out five times to inspect). Then my car was destroyed by a woman who had no insurance. My savings disappeared with the purchase of a new car (my insurance company refused to pay me anything until I gave them the $1000 deductible even though she was 100% at fault).

Jeremie Loncka

Then Covid hit, putting my husband out of work (his job is now being outsourced to other states). His meager retirement savings will only pay rent for two years. Nearing retirement, we both have to figure out how we will ever survive. As a critic, I don’t get paid to review shows, but I get free tickets, so at least we have culture. I now spend countless hours robbing Peter to pay Paul with credit, and shopping at four different stores a week to afford way overpriced groceries. (Meanwhile, my black neighbor called me a privileged white man, while she makes a fortune starring on a TV show. Yeah, I get it, but … really?!)

The stimulus checks that we used on the materials necessary for me to renovate the apartment were used up (I gave up on the feudal landlords treating us like serfs). This is when I found myself stashing an unpaid item in my car.

Lynde Houck and Kaili Hollister

So when Antonia, a character in Can’t Pay? Don’t Pay!, returns to her squalid apartment with sacks of confiscated goods from a market, I was immediately on her side. Antonia, who committed this crime with a horde of other women demanding decent prices, stashes the goods under her bed as the police begin to search the city door to door (Anytown U.S.A.). Antonia, who quickly becomes empowered by her actions, divulges the secret to her high-strung neighbor, Margherita (Lynde Houck). In turn, they must keep the secret from their husbands, who are on the brink of joblessness and foreclosure.

Luis Quintana and Jeremie Loncka

At The Actors’ Gang, Bob Turton directs Dario Fo and Franca Rome‘s 1974 masterwork (here deftly translated by Cam Deaver), as I Love Lucy meets Brecht. As Antonia, Kaili Hollister — delivering lines face front like the love child of one of the Dead End Kids and a Catskills comedian — is a firecracker of gumption, hastiness and adrenaline. Especially when she tries to cover up her shenanigans by feeding her husband Giovanni (Jeremie Loncka) frozen rabbit heads, bird seed soup and artisanal dog food. (I still laugh at the frozen rabbit heads; who comes up with this stuff? Well, a playwright awarded the Nobel Prize in 1997.)

Steven M. Porter

Mr. Loncka plays the bellowing and bemused Giovanni with a surprising amount of love, which is perfect given his situation. Well, after all, Giovanni buys Antonia’s story that Margherita, who withholds a mesh net of fruit under her top, is actually pregnant, even though Margherita’s husband Luigi (the ridiculously adorable but oddly unfunny Luis Quintana) doesn’t know about it. The two husbands will end up searching every hospital in town.

Kaili Hollister and Lynde Houck

While the evening is daffy, delightful and wholly entertaining, some bits work, and some strangely fall flat. The play soars when actors create an inner life that can be physicalized. Ms. Houck is all raw nerves as the kooky neighbor, but, while completely watchable, she has yet to mine the role for comic gold (I wondered what Alice‘s Beth Howland would have done here). I chalked the disparity up to Turton’s direction until farceur extraordinaire Steven M. Porter showed up at Giovanni’s door as an inept cop who at one time wanted to be a dancer. As Porter moves about the stage, he pivots his feet and extends his arms in graceful curves even as he tries to catch a thief. It is hilarity cubed. Later, Porter has a scene as an old man who gets tangled up in his walker (!), and it actually made me guffaw. Along with Ms. Hollister, Porter truly gets the art of commedia.

Steven M. Porter

After you see the show, I wonder if you’d like to join me at a market..?

photos by Ashley Randall

Can’t Pay? Don’t Pay!
The Actors’ Gang at The Ivy Substation
9070 Venice Blvd. in Culver City
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun (April 10 & 24) at 2
ends on to April 30, 2022 EXTENDED to June 11, 2022
for tickets, call 310.838.4264 or visit Actors’ Gang

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