Commie comedy

The laughs come wrapped in pinko packaging in Theatre Three's We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay!

Ultimately, however, their charms were insufficient to rescue me from the playwright's self-righteous political lecturing in We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! The most persuasive theatrical powers are the ones that indulge ambiguity and contradiction, those gray areas that paper the ceilings and walls and floors of human experience. Fo's stabs at the Catholic Church were probably equally strident, but they seemed to me more harmoniously married to the farce, such as when Antonia and Margherita are forced to invent a saint and a miracle to keep their stolen goodies hidden. You wonder how many Catholic officials throughout the centuries have done the same.

With his anti-capitalism swipes, Fo certainly could retain complexity and still make a salient point--the desire of a few people to make a lot of money affects a lot of people, often in cruel ways. Being unfamiliar with the Fo canon, I can't say whether the man writes literature, or whether he deserved last year's Nobel Prize. But We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! is often shrill in making vital points. Let's put it this way: Dario Fo could be called the punk rocker of world theater, a man who's saying important things loudly and obnoxiously to institutions that don't want to hear them. Punk rock did that in the '70s with corporate, pompous rock and pop (not to mention the English monarchy and parliament) and created some intelligent, provocative hybrids as a result of the confrontation. But now, as ever, the "cause" of punk will never be as edifying as its effects.

We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! runs through November 22. Call 871-3300.

Words like "provocative" and "challenging" certainly apply to 11th Street Theatre Project's double-bill of one-acts, David Mamet's Reunion and Joyce Carol Oates' Ontological Proof of My Existence. Pairing these shows is an intriguing contrast-comparison on several levels. Both heavily concern a grown daughter's relationship with her father. Both are being performed with hearing and deaf audiences in mind--Reunion is performed in sign language by deaf actors, with two performers providing voice-over dialogue for the hearing, and Ontological Proof of My Existence is performed vocally by hearing actors, with a sign interpreter on stage guiding deaf audiences through the language. But, on a purely stylistic level, they are theatrical bookends, with a considerable distance in thought and delivery between them. Mamet is, well, Mamet, with prolix slang-talk and despair largely internalized, while Oates is unmistakably Oates, with feverish poetry that churns with a violence that inevitably becomes destiny for her troubled characters.

Lisa Cotie, a hearing artist who knows sign language, directed Reunion and provided one of the offstage voices for this restrained two-character look at a woman meeting her father after almost a lifetime of distance. There's no music, and the conversation is divided into a series of Polaroid takes separated by the rise and fall of the lights. As a hearing audience member, I surprised myself by having little trouble following this tale of an under-recovery alcoholic World War II vet (Gary Neall Raney, Jr.) who attempts to woo the discontented daughter (Kelli Williams Mirus) who instigates the reunion. Raney and Mirus matched the always crystalline but sometimes (deliberately) muted passion of their facial expressions with hand movements fluttering like birds eager to take flight. It occurred to me, midway through the performance, that this wasn't much different from watching a foreign movie with subtitles; just as many years of filmgoing experience have taught me that trick, so I suspect a similar training stint would move me closer to the heart of a deaf-performed play.

Ontological Proof of My Existence, directed by Kevin Grammer and signed by Gabriel Vangellis, jostles around inside both the poetic parameters of Joyce Carol Oates' bleak, lovely language and the four walls inside the abandoned building where it's set. Shelly (Laurel Whitsett) is a Midwestern girl who "smells like cornflakes and talcum" but somehow got on a bus to the city and wound up spending days at a time on a soiled mattress, waiting to service men booked by a suave pimp named Peter V. (Guin Powell). Both have reinvented themselves from a previous life they couldn't stand. Shelly's new incarnation has several names and feels disconnected from her body, and she must continually seek from Peter V. how she must think, feel, and act. Mr. V. feeds her some scraps of her stable suburban past, referring to her tricks as husbands who want "supper and a little loving." Her desperate father (Mitch Carr) shows up with a slide projector full of memories that, to Shelly as well as the audience, are blurred and just a little bit sinister.

Laurel Whitsett and Guin Powell are both as addictive as the white pills her character is fed, but for different reasons: She is truly a good little girl used to preening and posing for attention, but when she stops thinking about the men in her life and starts thinking about herself, she plummets into a flailing panic. Powell is a quietly commanding actor I would love to see more of on Dallas stages. His chilling Peter V. cut something vital inside himself a long time ago in order to treat all his girls as one little girl; Powell's cruel charm makes Shelly's surrender of identity hauntingly believable.

Reunion and Ontological Proof of My Existence run through November 21. Call (214) 522-

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