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A CurtainUp Review
The Dumb Waiter


" He wonít see you."— Ben
"He wonít see me."—Gus
I am an unabashed Harold Pinter fan. Of all the great crop of British absurdist playwrights produced in the mid-twentieth century, in my view even Samuel Beckett and Tom Stoppard donít eclipse Pinter, who uses a unique blend of humor and pathos to deliver drama with a powerful political and social message.

But Pinterís subtlety isnít easy to perform. Direct the work too reverently and youíll end up with a boring, turgid mess; play it too lightly and the result is a strangely paced farce. Iím happy to report that in the National Asian American Theatre Companyís production of Pinterís one act masterpiece The Dumb Waiter, director Andrew Pang makes neither mistake. The resulting production is an excellent one indeed.

Ben and Gus are two hit men (played by Stephen Park and Louis Ozawa Changchien respectively) waiting for their next job in a dingy basement room, following an oft-repeated pattern. In fact the whole play is about patterns and rituals: Ben, the senior member of the team, reads a newspaper endlessly while Gus fidgets and ties his shoes obsessively, asking his counterpart a seemingly inexhaustible series of questions. When Ben goes over the details of the job, just as he has a hundred times before, Gus repeats the instructions mechanically and without real interest, just as he has a hundred times before. And all throughout the play the dumb waiter in the room delivers food requests to what Ben speculates must originally have been a cafť, driving the tension and uncertainty in the room ever higher.

Thus far the plot sounds simple enough, but as always with Pinter, itís what isnít said that matters. Gus has obviously begun to have second thoughts about his chosen profession, while Ben alternates between barely suppressed rage and vague sympathy for his partnerís doubts. Changchien and Park play the relationship beautifully, with violence always brewing right below the conscious level of the scene yet dominating its atmosphere, and the audience finds itself in the same unusual place each character ultimately finds himself: sympathetic to, perhaps even sorry for a pair of paid killers.

Then thereís the room. With sound effects executed live by Adam Cochran (also known as Minq Vaddka), the room and those who control it become one massive if anonymous character, the authority to whom Ben and Gus are forced to submit no matter how absurd or senseless the demands placed upon them. As ever with Pinter, faceless oppression is no less terrifying or immoral for being unseen, and Olivera Gajicís steampunk-inspired costume design, which turns the play even colder and more mechanical than normal, helps emphasize the ease with which members of society will allow themselves to be bound by even the most repulsive rituals. B.F. Skinner could only nod in recognition.

What makes all of this work is director Pangís careful control of pace, only gradually revealing his cards and only when each one will have its maximum effect. Even over the short performing time of the play, the slow burn is a pleasureóalbeit a frightening, draining oneóto watch. The production isnít perfect; Park has some trouble with the consistency of his accent, and at times Cochranís presence is a bit distracting. But on the whole, both cast and crew really understand what Pinter is getting at, and together they deliver a funny and chilling performance of work from a great playwright. I highly recommend it.

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Reviewed by Dr. Gregory A. Wilson based on October 13th performance
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