Ben and Gus awake in what we take to be some kind of makeshift bedroom with cots. They are wearing black suits and have guns and brief cases, which make us wonder if they are some kind of career criminals, higher on the food chain than thugs. Ben seems to be the one in charge, and they are waiting to get word about some kind of assignment. Ben seems rattled and when Gus tries to chat him up, he seems quite surly. Jumpy. He appears to be keeping something from Gus. Out of nowhere, a dumbwaiter that has been unused suddenly crashes, with a food order. Puzzled and clueless, Gus and Ben attempt to accommodate the request, considering the building is no longer a restaurant, with no food to speak of.
Anyone acquainted with playwright Harold Pinter knows he is not likely to provide much context or backstory, if any. “The Dumb Waiter”, an early piece, is soaked in mystery, though the mystery emerges simply from the fact that we’re peeking in on two blokes without much explanation beyond what we see. Pinter asks us to figure out what’s going without knowing their past or future. It’s not as if they’re doing anything odd. Beyond responding to messages obviously not intended for them. A note places an order for say, Oysters Rockefeller and they send up crisps and a stale snack pie. Most intriguing about Pinter’s approach is how prone we are to cook up a (seemingly) plausible scenario with relatively little to go on.
Kitchen Dog Theater (operating out of their new, radiant green venue) is nearly perfect for Pinter because they bask in the rush of the purely theatrical. One can almost absorb the giddy electricity they spark, wielding Pinter’s sly sorcery for getting under our skin, while parsing out content with the stinginess of Mr. Bumble in Oliver Twist. Are Ben and Gus assassins? Possibly. Possibly. But maybe not. Are coded messages being tendered to Ben, behind Gus’ back? Could be. Is the dumb waiter an allegory? Are the notes from God? Perhaps they only have as much meaning as Gus and Ben attribute to them. Is Pinter having a joke at our expense or perhaps he’s using theatrical chicanery to give us a glimpse of deeper truths? Must it be one or another? Whatever you take away from KDT’s The Dumb Waiter the sheer joy of concocting so much from so little is worth your time, just give yourself permission to play.
The Dumb Waiter played Kitchen Dog Theater September 11th through October 10th, 2015. 214-953-1055. 161 Riveredge Drive, Dallas, Texas 75207. www.kitchendogtheater.org