ACT –A Contemporary Theatre is in the thick of its Pinter Festival, celebrating the deliciously dark Nobel laureate’s work. While two of the featured works are full length plays set to open later this month, the double bill “The Dumb Waiter” and “Celebration” is open now and runs through August 12. Director John Langs harnessed a remarkably talented pool of actors who navigate Harold Pinter‘s trademark gallows humor with aplomb. If you want to see comedic timing pulled off with stunning expertise, get thee to ACT for this delightful double bill.
First, spoiler alert! “The Dumb Waiter” isn’t a comedy about the exploits of an oafish burger slinger at Johnny Rocket’s. Instead the play takes place in a barely livable underground bunker where two hit men kill time while waiting to start their next job. Darragh Kennan as “Gus,” the junior member of the team, is perfect — his perpetually perplexed face is in and of itself comedic gold. Gus incessantly asks questions, both inane and philosophical, which reminds one of the Death Star cafeteria worker in an Eddie Izzard sketch.
Charles Leggett as “Ben,” the seasoned veteran of the game, is the Abbott to Kennan’s Costello. Leggett’s waning patience is an art form in this show. While Ben bumbles blindly in the dark, Leggett’s “Gus” is measured and confident — at least until you tick him off. Both Kennan and Leggett expertly squeeze every comedic drop out of the silences that awkwardly stretch between them. Meanwhile, the titular inanimate character keeps dropping quizzical dinner orders, much to the heightened confusion and panic of the two men. The audience is transfixed, laughing while inching toward the edge of their seats waiting for the other shoe to drop.
And then it’s over and you’re not entirely sure what just played out. The intermission to follow is good for that “Wait. . . what?” discussion. Still, the acting, the banter, and the ambiance is so well done, it’s hard to be unsatisfied.
Next up is “Celebration.” Inspired by an actual table of raucous diners overheard by Pinter and his wife, “Celebration” is what would happen if every obnoxious person you have ever met decided to have dinner at the same fancy schmancy restaurant. And it’s hilarious. From the drunken lascivious hypocrite, the two-timing yuppie wannabe, and the nosy waiter, to the floozy your beau slept with before you, the embittered foul-mouthed wife, and her wildly inappropriate sister. They’re all there. And they’re ordering more wine. Bon appétit!
While there are excellent performances all around, Anne Allgood as “Prue” (the aforementioned sister) gives one of the greatest drunken monologues in theatrical history. It’s not just a series of filthy one-liners (though the show’s got those, too), it’s got a full-on story arc, impeccably done. How any actor on that stage managed to freeze her or his face is anyone’s guess. Kennan also has a wonderful bit part as a waiter with a most impressive grandfather (just. . . go see it). The audience giggled in anticipation whenever he entered the stage.
Lighting Designer Rick Paulsen did a marvelous job for both plays. The uncomfortable flickering and eerie florescent glow from the grated floor combined with Brendan Patrick Hogan’s screechy sound effects are perfect co-stars for “The Dumb Waiter.” The final smooth-glowing moments of “Celebration” are particularly impactful.
While “Celebration” is definitely the stronger of the two works, there is still something unfocused about its message. Is it meant as commentary on the boorishness of the nouveau riche? Or did Pinter just want to recreate an amusing and outlandish conversation he overheard with his wife? Similar to the many red herrings in “The Dumb Waiter,” the story lacks the crispness of the dialogue. Regardless, the artistic and creative teams behind these productions are top notch and it’s well worth the trip to enjoy some very intelligent, darn-right good theatre.
Tickets are $5 to $55. All events included in the ACTPass, ACT’s $25/month membership program (ACTPass holders can also get discounts on Henry Woolf’s master class). “Celebration” and “The Dumb Waiter” are included as a double-bill in a subscription package. For full schedule and more information on other special events, visit http://www.acttheatre.org/ (206) 292-7676
Don’t forget to pick up a Pinter Punch Card! You earn points and rewards the more performances/events you attend. Some rewards include commemorative pins, drink and parking vouchers, and a signed poster by the full Pinter Festival cast. Pick up your Pocket Guide at ACT Theatre and then stop by the in the Union Lobby after attending a Festival event to get your Pocket Guide punched.
For more theatre reviews and news, check out: http://www.examiner.com/a-contemporary-theatre-in-seattle/jasmine-joshua