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Pay Up

Pig Iron has done it again. This imaginative, disciplined Philadelphia-based troupe -- expanded to a remarkable 35 performers for this show -- entertains with high theatricality while provoking with serious ideas. "Pay Up" is about the sociology of money: the stuff it buys, the ethics it bends, the power it creates. And it's very funny.

Pig Iron has done it again. This imaginative, disciplined (and how often do those adjectives appear together?) Philadelphia-based troupe — expanded to a remarkable 35 performers for this show — entertains with high theatricality while provoking with serious ideas. “Pay Up” is about the sociology of money: the stuff it buys, the ethics it bends, the power it creates. And it’s very funny.

A warehouse has been painted entirely white. The huge space is punctuated by white rooms, some with peephole windows, some with chairs, and all equipped with high-tech earphones.

People in white lab jumpsuits and brand-new white sneakers hand out packets of five $1 bills (they don’t call it “filthy lucre” for nothing) and white booties to cover our shoes, as well as maps locating the eight scenes with names like “Fungibility” and “Loss Aversion.” The P.A. system directs us with slightly menacing firmness. We are permitted to choose only six of the eight scenes, each requiring that we put one of our dollars into a white bucket to enter. (Basic arithmetic = tiny but inevitable profit.)

Most of the scenes are split between what we hear through the earphones and what we see — sometimes male voices and female actors — but the correspondence between gesture and voice is surgically precise.

One scene involves a man proposing marriage to a woman named Amanda, telling her he really wants to see the monkeys. What monkeys? It soon becomes clear we are in an experimental lab where monkeys are being taught the value of money (buy a grape) — the show is based on scientific studies being conducted at Yale.

It also evolves that every scene has somebody named “Amanda” in it. The one about two people named Amanda requires that one of them sell her name to the other, who, not incidentally, is played by an excellent actor named Amanda Schoonover. A woman who is mopping one of the lab floors wears a butterfly pin, its significance probably revealed in a scene called “Butterflies.”

After the audience has seen three scenes (each conclusion is signaled by a buzzer), we are herded into the center of the warehouse where the entire cast gathers to dance and sing, in many-part harmony, the lament: “I chose all wrong. I feel so bad,” followed by the sweetly melodic refrain, “No, you can’t/No you can’t/There’s no fucking refund.” At the end of the sixth segment, they reassemble for a hilarious Busby Berkeley number, and the concluding voiceover appraisal, “You should have spent your time somewhere else. Now it’s gone.”

The lab atmosphere morphs into an airport, and as we file out we glimpse the actors being frisked, spread-eagled against the wall of a room — shouting, outrage, money strewn everywhere.

That the warehouse is going to be demolished as soon as the festival ends to make way for upscale condos seems perfectly appropriate.

Pay Up

National Building, Philadelphia; 150 Seats; $15 Top

  • Production: A Philadelphia Live Arts Festival presentation of a Pig Iron Theater Company play in one act, with text by Robert Quillen Camp. Directed by Dan Rothenberg. Choreography, Andrew Simonet.
  • Crew: Sets and costumes, Anna Kiraly; lighting, Brian Lilienthal; sound, Robert Quillen Camp; sound system designer, Jebney Lewis; production stage manager, Sarah Bishop-Stone. Opened, reviewed Sept. 3, 2005. Running time: 1 HOUR, 5 MIN.
  • Cast: <b>With:</b> Aram Aghazarian, Valentina Bove, Dylan Clements, Gayle Da Costa, Johnnie Hobbs III, Leonard Kelly, Cedric Lilly, Danielle Mebane, Genevieve Perrier, Dito van Reigersbertg, Barney Baggett, Corinna Burns, Kali Colton, Morgan Eckert, Kelly Jennings, Alyssa Kondracki, Matt Lorenz, Eli Metcalf, Amanda Schoonover, Enrique Villacis-Tappia, Quinn Bauriedel, Ben Camp, Jessica Conda, Makoto Hirano, Evan Jonigkeit, Rainey Lacey, Sarah McCarron, Christie Parker, Phoebe Vacharat, Leah Walton.