“No Se Paga” opened Thursday night to a sold-out crowd in Sacramento State’s Playwright’s Theatre.
The slapstick comedy revolves around two couples struggling financially when the local supermarket begins to double the price of food, and the local factory begins laying off employees.
The audience was engaged and laughed throughout the two-hour production, pleasing director and drama professor Manuel Pickett.
“No Se Paga” is a bilingual play, with the actors alternating between English and Spanish from line to line.
“The audience really understood the political message which was one of my big concerns,” Pickett said. “They laughed at most of the stuff, a lot of the stuff I thought they were just going to giggle at. The show definitely went well, and it worked.”
Sophomore theater major Jose Perales plays Gerardo, a working-class guy who panics when his hours are cut back at work; he said after weeks of rehearsals, opening night was their best run so far.
“Energy, timing, everything worked out, the audience really helped,” Perales said. “It’s a good thing we had a good audience because sometimes an audience is here more because they have to and not because they want to attend and that really brings us down.”
Perales said the cast was not sure what to expect prior to the night’s performance, since before they had only done the play in front of a few people.
“When I stared out in the audience during the play I didn’t see anyone bored,” Perales said. “They were all really into it and would laugh where they were supposed to laugh, you know. Just that they enjoyed the show, that’s awesome.”
Layla Oghabian, who plays Margarita, wife of Gerardo’s friend Luis who has a lot of physical comedy, said her first comedy performance made her feel anxious.
Her character’s anxiety comes from her pretending to be pregnant when concealing stolen groceries.
“I was a little nervous when I came on stage, so I let that nervousness kind of feed my character,” Oghabian said.
She said the balance between such a serious subject and comedy makes it more accessible to the audience.
“It has such an impact on people, and it’s funny at the same time,” Oghabian said. “Political satire, like comedian Stephen Colbert, is my favorite. It ties into what’s going on with the economic downfall.”
Erik Meza, a sophomore who portrays Luis, Gerardo’s co-worker and friend, said there is a whole new energy every time you step up in front of an audience.
“When I go on stage there is always something I do differently as an actor,” Meza said. “You go up there and you can only hope for the best. You know as an actor if something isn’t working out. I know for myself, I put a lot more energy into it this time around so I felt really good about my performance.”
Marianne Gaona, who plays Gerardo’s wife Antonia, did not know any Spanish going into the production said she relied on her co-stars to help get her through some of the dialogue up until that night.
“It’s an entirely different thing to memorize a different language you don’t know,” Gaona said. “Harder than performing Shakespeare.”
Pickett said he decided to lower the price on opening night and sell to groups to get a full audiencethat wouldend up being their advertisement for the remaining performances until Sunday.
Pickett said the themes of struggle and getting through the day are timeless, particularly in difficult times.
“Especially now because of the economy people are losing their jobs, putting up with furloughs, surviving with no work, gas is going up, people are losing jobs -it’s just insane,” Pickett said. “That’s what we’re trying to show in this play, when people are desperate to a point, it’s almost anarchy.”
He said one of the reasons he thinks it works is because the play can be adapted to any city in which people live.
“It will be relevant because the whole nation suffers, when one state suffers, most of the nation suffers,” Pickett said. “People can adapt to their own situation and relate to it, and say, “That’s exactly what’s going on.'”
Shel Hurni, a writer who was in attendance, said “No Se Paga,” with the comedic chemistry of the two couples, reminded him of “I Love Lucy.”
“When you are living on the edge you have to be really resourceful,” Hurni said.
Pickett said he hopes the play’s relevance in the current recession will make a difference.
“Even when we watch something on television that talks about a factory closing all of a sudden the play comes up in our mind,” Pickett said. “We get to see their personal hell, and I think you’re living that life up on stage. That’s the power of the theatre, that’s the power of the arts.”
Sean Keister can be reached at [email protected]