Dallas — You think your job is a tangle of angst and in-fighting exacerbated by demands from a boss with an insatiable appetite for faster and grander products? Wait’ll you see Kitchen Dog Theater’s production of The Dumb Waiter, Harold Pinter’s tense and hilarious one-act that makes the open door of the famed prop feel like the predatory jaws of a monster shark.
Tim Johnson directs a physically riveting, darkly comic production of the classic 1957 absurdist work launching K-Dog’s 25th season at their new temporary location in The Green Zone in the Design District.
Two hit men in dress shirts and suspenders sit waiting in Clair Floyd DeVires’ ratty, windowless room, both doors flaking paint and out of plumb, and surrounded by a pitch-black space behind the walls. They’re not waiting for Godot on some abstract plain; they’re in a crummy unfamiliar hole waiting to find out when their next “job” is going to show up.
Gus (a perfectly piteous and comically energetic Michael Federico) takes his shoe on and off, fidgeting over the laces and finally getting it back on, only to grunt in pain as he stands up and discoverers an empty matchbook stuffed in his shoe, and must begin all over again. Sighing and grimacing, he plops back down on his messy cot. Federico lands this funny burlesque bit with a timeless Chaplinesque rhythm.
Meanwhile, Ben (a tightly coiled and taciturn Christopher Carlos) reads the London Herald, stretched out on his tidy cot. Ben reads sensational headlines about a child killing a cat and an old man getting crushed by a bus he crawled under, to which Gus replies that he wonders who told the guy “to do a thing like that.” Who, indeed?
As time and uncertainty weigh upon the men, they make small talk, babble about “crockery,” consider the sports teams they’ve seen, and argue about whether you “light the gas” or “light the kettle.”
Gus, increasingly antic, starts asking questions like an impatient kid. Federico, visibly quivering around the mouth, manifests his doubt and creeping terror in his questions. When are they going to hear something? Who is it going to be? Remember the last one, a girl?
Carlos’s Ben, physically bigger and clearly the more powerful “senior partner” of this team, has empty dark eyes that reflect nothing. He flies into a rage at all the questions, and then uses a dour silence and menacing glare to stare down his chattering mate.
Then really weird stuff starts happening. An envelope is shoved under the door, spooking Gus and throwing both men into hyper-alert, gun-drawn mode. The dumb waiter, an innocuous cabinet door until now, suddenly trips into action and crashes into the scene with the sledgehammer volume of an arch-villain. The door flies up and an order for food appears. Kudos to sound designer John M. Flores and prop master John Slauson.
The startled men try to make sense of such a thing. Ben tries an unconvincing riff on the idea that their room is a recently closed café, but they both know there’s not even gas enough to make tea. The open maw of the dumb waiter demands action. Pitifully and hilariously, they rifle through their bags, sacrificing the only food they have, some biscuits and pie Gus brought along to fortify himself for the night’s work.
The orders get wilder and more exotic, and Gus hollers up the dumb waiter in frustration and fear. The men try to cope with the demands and stress of giving up more than they have to give, pushing themselves to their limits—and into each other’s faces.
When they discover the voice tube, the play reaches a marvelously desperate and comic absurdity. When the tube whistles, Ben gathers himself, slicks back his close-cropped hair from his wet forehead, and answers as if he’s the maitre d’ in a high-class restaurant. By now, everybody’s on edge in the 100-seat theater, and we know the order from “upstairs” has got to come soon. It does, with the shock of inevitability we expect from Pinter and Kitchen Dog’s high-impact, hard-knocks approach.
» Read our interview with Tim Johnson about the KDT move and The Dumb Waiter