The Dumb Waiter
nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
April 19, 2008
The Blood & Stone Theatre Company's The Dumb Waiter is fast, furious, and funny. Currently playing at the PIT, this production is an excellent introduction to Harold Pinter and shows how very strongly this concise piece, written in 1957, has held up. The play feels convincingly contemporary and is just gorgeous writing, deceptively simple within an ironclad construction.
On a sparse yet completely sufficient set, Ben and Gus are two professional hit men awaiting their next imminent assignment. They pass the time in their own ways within this miserly hideout, awaiting the contact from the powers-that-be that will set them in motion. The more stoic Ben makes solemn and wondering note of the news trivia in the dailies, while the edgier Gus fidgets along in a slightly bizarre and entertaining fashion. Their characters are well fleshed out by this cast, with Rich Orlow exploiting the full comic foibles of Gus's fidgets as Martin Carey quietly, almost ominously, fills in Ben's deliberate knowingness.
Their morning passes mundanely enough until the startling machinations of the dumb waiter within the building begin to wreak havoc on their nerves. Life is no longer going along in the expected and familiar ways; instead there appears to be a spanner in the works that neither man has the resources to accommodate. Having been talking of their profession and the changing ways of their organization, the men's vague sense of tension is suddenly exacerbated by one of the more known and ordinary parts of a job, the hideout, rebelling—the building itself is out of sync. It shoves them out of their routine and they become increasingly desperate to find solid grounding. Gus ricochets between verbal and physical twitching as Ben fights to keep them on task—but what the task is has changed and the entire known world is suddenly and hilariously in question.
This revival credits no director and while an outside eye might have helped construct a stronger build, perhaps more skillfully varying how the mounting panic is expressed, the solid talents of this cast ensure it is a worthwhile production. Both actors are skilled in their comic sense and committed to the action. They work well off each other and with the text. While The Dumb Waiter begins misleadingly as simply funny, the production then veers, for the most part effectively, between disturbing and even funnier. The disaster of their lives becomes an entertainingly compelling evening.
The overall quality of The Dumb Waiter as presented by Blood & Stone is a wonderful example of simply produced, solid theatre and an impressive initial production for them. It would a wonderful thing, to have more such smaller-scale productions, so well conceived...and executed.