Once you walk in the dimly lit theatre and notice the very simple, modest and down to Earth set of a home—ones with old cabinets and rackety chair —you know you are in for humble, yet, realistic portrayal of the harsh living conditions most people endure in Lebanon.
From the very beginning of the play, the upbeat escape music with citizens
holding grocery bags, and cops running around on stage and next to the seats of audience—you already know you are part of the play.
The play centers around four main characters. Antoinette is a charming and Egyptian-Movie crazed woman, who is known for concocting hilarious stories. Her sidekick, or more, her best friend, is Rita, who is a strand shy from your average intelligence, but is as loyal as they come. Their respective husbands, Tony and Antonius, are hardworking citizens who’d rather give up anything before they give up their honor. Simply put, the characters are lively, and have certain humane features that make the audience compelled to be attached to them.
The play’s plot ignites as Antoinette is shocked by the spiked prices of food and appliances. In an act of pure resistance to this insensitive increase of prices, she, with several other women, vehemently refuse to pay the incredible cost, and end up robbing a supermarket with the pretext of ‘We Can’t Pay, We Won’t Pay!’
The course of the play centers around Antoinette and Rita in their mission of hiding their stolen food from their husband, who would much rather die in poverty and pride than be thieves. Further, they try to stash their provisions by placing the bags under their coats, making them miraculously 5 months pregnant in just a few minutes. The husband and cops (who are performing home-raids for the stolen food) find it skeptical that these women are pregnant, but Antoinette weaves a clever web of stories, filled with intrigue and religion, which cannot be easily dismissed, as we know.
Although hilarious at times, this play is, of course—as all plays are—for entertainment purposes—but it serves to relay the heartache we are all suffering.
The couples’ poverty is so striking, that even if they are the ones who work to compile the food in factory, they are unable to eat or pay rent, and are subjected to starvation—to the point of them eating whatever is at hand, such as dog food (which is surprisingly nutritious) and heads of chickens (which is quite disgusting).
The police, who should be actually protecting the civilians, are hunting them down, when they knowingly acknowledge the fact that our leaders have set a system which only protects the powerful while degrading the poor and the hardworking citizen.
Thus, where do we draw the line of aggression and exploitation? Is it until we are forced out of our homes, living on the streets do we realize that the system we have been forced to accustom to works against us, not for us?
Is it not the role of the government to aid its citizens, to listen to the demands of its people, and to stop the increase of prices? With the economic crisis we are in, which heartbreakingly forces people to steal as so much as the basic bread—how much must one endure until our superiors think of us as humans, not as machinery to be exploited and abused?
“We Can’t Pay, We Won’t Pay!” leaves you breathless from the impeccable acting to the hilarious punch-lines, but it also leaves you with an ache in your heart; as a remembrance that our country does not hold its citizens as its highest regards, but rather abuses their essence for its own sake.