Sunday, May 19, 2013

Review: (Toronto) The Dumb Waiter

l-r Mark Wilson, David Matheson (photo: Dahlia Katz)
Giving Good Pause
by Jason Booker

The Dumb Waiter. Pinter, eh? 


Great production by Wordsmyth Theatre here, an independent Toronto company. See, sharp direction by Melee Hutton leads David Matheson and Mark Wilson to superb performances. These two, they play Gus and Ben as harsh, hardened, yet vulnerable. Two agitated hit men received a call but now, stuck in the basement, waiting for the word go. Then they begin getting notes from the dumb waiter – you know the device in the wall of old-fashioned hoity-toity estates, delivers dishes of grub and that sort of thing. And good for a café, which is maybe what is upstairs of the basement, so says Ben, when they begin sending up their snacks. But just the sound of that dumb waiter rattling into life, well, it gives you the heebie jeebies.  And that’s without mentioning the ever-present guns these two whip about.

Anyway, Andrea Mittler’s set captures grimness, er, griminess.  Like who has washed the walls in this place in the last decade? Grey and brown: my favourites. Dark, dirty and immersive – no one can tell what part of this space is the set and what part is her design. A set built on contrasts between Ben’s crisply white bed and Gus’ rumpled pong-y sheets.

made it feel like we were trapped in the room with these men, waiting, waiting. Waiting.

Nice work also from Siobhán Sleath, as her lights interrogate the characters in a creatively naturalistic way. Without a grid, she sure did figure out how to illuminate the stage well. And made it feel like we were trapped in the room with these men, waiting, waiting. Waiting.


That’s the issue. We’re waiting; they’re waiting. What for? Well, Pinter is Pinter, right? So space and silence. Subtext, subtlety and symbolism. Clearly something important is afoot in this first work of the author’s.

At play’s end, marvel can be made of the skill of the people who put this together, though questions must be asked about what they so carefully crafted. Why expend such effort for this Dumb Waiter?

Tiny space, this Odyssey Studio, seats only a few dozen as part of a house or storefront initially. And yet, instead of plunging the audience into the room with the hitmen, the stage is clearly demarcated. A frame about the space acknowledges the audience firmly remains apart from the action, regardless of if it is built into the structure of the adjoining rooms.

So, while Gus and Ben argue, the audience feels left out: out to watch and not partake. Pinter is not meant to be entertaining not at all. His work should be a thought-provoker easing into the subconscious to rut about for days. Discomfort rules his devious world. Sly critiques of society. Wordsmyth’s production, instead, feels like a tribute to the skill of their workers and not to the writer and his themes, especially with such convincing portrayals of the characters and their world. 
Technically the production slickly chugs along – even with the requisite pauses. Great work by the team. But what waits under the surface? A tense and dense little play of under an hour’s duration, the point is to get in, get out and leave ‘em just short of the bang. Wanting more. Not, in its place, waiting for an ending to occur.

The Dumb Waiter continues until June 6, 2013 at the Odyssey Studio  
See also: Dahlia Katz's photo essay on rehearsal for Dumb Waiter

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