The Dumb Waiter, one of Harold Pinter's earliest plays,is the perfect choice to kick off this festival as it is almost a case study in what lies at the heart of all of Pinter's plays. It is a taut tension filled piece that deals even-handedly with both the banalities as well as the essence of life. Here making tea and deciding the best way to kill someone are discussed with equal import. It straddles the fence perfectly between gritty realistic drama (that Pinter's self-appointed protege David Mamet took and ran with) and existential mindscapes (that Pinter's acknowledged influence and later friend and colleague Samuel Beckett so often employed). It is darkly funny, even menacing (a favorite word amongst Pinter critics), and challenges its audience to view the world a bit differently by its end.
|Darragh Kennan and Chuck Leggett in The Dumb Waiter|
(For a full disclosure I should mention that I saw these plays in preview, so any critiques I have from here forward could certainly have been addressed by opening night.)
Celebration, one of Pinter's later plays, makes for a very interesting partner with The Dumb Waiter. From a claustrophobic single room with two characters in the first play, we move to a busy restaurant with eleven characters in the second. Where The Dumb Waiter seems to have a tight kinetic energy driving it forward, Celebration has a looser more collage-like feel. Like Pinter's other later works, this play is more confident in its tangents. It takes the characters and audience quickly from point A to point C sometimes never bothering to circle back to B.
|Frank Carrado in Celebration|
That said, the framing of the two pieces with controlled zen nature of Darragh Kennan at the beginning of The Dumb Waiter and then with the final monologue as the "waiter" in Celebration, bookended the evening perfectly and made me eager to come back to check out Old Times and No Man's Land when they join the festival in a few weeks. Congratulations to Kurt Beattie and Frank Corrado for having the courage and drive to bring this festival to Seattle audiences.
The Dumb Waiter and Celebration play at ACT through August 26. Tickets here.
Set and Staging : I sat at the side of the thrust stage, as did about 1/4 of the audience. The staging on the first play was little tough at times, seeing only the back of one actor's head as he blocked my view of the other actor, but overall passable. The fact that I couldn't really see the dumb waiter or its contents when it opened, which clearly the audience at the front of the thrust could, was a bit distracting.
In Celebration, however, these issues became a bit worse. The biggest challenge of a play like this, from a staging point of view, is that you have 4 diners at a single table who don't get up much during the show. If you sit them traditionally around the table, the audience is going to miss one or two actors for almost the whole show depending on where you are sitting. A tough problem to fix for sure. But the choice here to have all four actors cheated to the upstage part of the table, leaving 1/3 of the table unadorned an unused, crowded the actors together in a way that didn't really make sense within the play. Plus, from my side view, they were often almost lined up in a row where I couldn't really get a good look at any but one of them at a time.
The set for The Dumbwaiter was perfect utilitarian excellence and the use of lighting to punctuate moments in the play, ingeniously effective. Yet the set and costumes for Celebration seemed to make an unnecessary negative judgement on the characters. Though it clearly is supposed to take place in a very nice upscale restaurant, the colors and decor here clearly suggested a restaurant past its heyday. The tackiness and unattractiveness of the diners' atire also made us feel that these people were not to be empathized with but more to be laughed at. It struck me that the play could have been much more affecting if the restaurant resembled one of the finer restaurants down the street from ACT, and if the diners looked liked the well dressed and well educated audience that was watching the show. If so, I believe the laughter that would have been created during the show would have been much more nervous laughter than the almost hooting and hollering I heard.