We Won’t Pay! We Won’t Pay!, Breadline Theatre. As the stock market heads downward and one big company after another totters, Dario Fo’s 1974 agitprop script–played against a background of economic stagnation, mass layoffs, and plant closings–is suddenly, frighteningly apropos. That makes it all the more surprising that this production seems so utterly divorced from real life.

The fact that Fo writes farces clearly confused director Michael Oswalt. His program note compares the play to a Warner Brothers cartoon, which is off the mark, and his staging suggests a 50s sitcom. Fo’s premise does sound as if it came from an episode of I Love Lucy–complications arise when two working-class housewives participate in a food riot. But that’s no reason to stage the play as if it were a television show, complete with taped applause whenever an actor enters and booming outro music at the end of each scene.

Oswalt doesn’t seem to understand that Fo uses farce the way Brecht sometimes uses folktales, drawing audiences in so he can clobber them with his message–in this play, that a harsh capitalist system has made life unbearable. Here the only thing that’s insufferable is the production, packed as it is with inane sound cues, cheap props, and relentlessly unfunny performances. Paul Kampf and Pamela Klarup are particularly inept as the lead married couple.