July 2, 2001


The Dumb Waiter

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning

























For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

A stark black stage in a tiny theatre is a telling test ground for a nascent theatre company. In their premiere performance, The Farm used four bald light bulbs, two lumpy beds, and two student actors from Greensboro to illuminate the sparse Harold Pinter drama, The Dumb Waiter.

In their self-described "laboratory of sorts," The Farm has a double goal of re-establishing theatre as a vital community experience, and allowing young actors to mine their art. They've made a decent start. Director Anthony Cerrato explores the realms of tempo, sound and body movement to create a tension filled drama at the Off-Tryon's no frills theatre space on Cullman Avenue in NODA.

The Dumb Waiter explores nuances within the questionable relationship between two criminals. As the audience is seated, the two motionless actors provide a still life portrait; one reads a paper, the other is fast asleep. For an unnervering number of minutes before the play begins, no one moves, and the audience accepts the silent challenge to remain still. Latecomers are a bit humiliated, as squeaky chairs unfold while both the audience and Ben, played by Richard Newman, watch them.

Cerrato successfully employs uncomfortable silences and mundane physical movements to establish intimacy between the audience and the actors. When Ben finally moves, it is to sit on his bed and establish deep eye contact with the house as he laboriously puts on his shoes and ties them. When Gus awakes with a start, the entire audience jerks awake with him. I think this initial embrace establishes audience willingness to withstand almost intolerable moments of inaction throughout the play.

The slow paced show quickly divulges that, whatever their purpose for being together, Ben is in charge, and Gus is more interesting. Are they lovers, are they brothers? Do they like each other at all? As the plot progresses the answer is never implicit. I was led like a tame cow to react each time I was supposed to, whether the impetus was a physical blow or an alarming noise. There is a raw, jangling edge to the production, exacerbated by the juxtaposition of silence to explosions of movement and sound.

Pinter is British and the dialogue reflects this. But these actors are American, except when using the word "blimey," which apparently cannot be spoken without a British accent. So often that accent is unintelligible to my crass American ears. I loved not having to guess whether I correctly understood them saying "cadging matches" and "pong." The lines "that's enough to make the cat laugh," and "that's a bloody liberty!" sounded wonderful in an American cadence.

Matt Cosper played Gus, the junior partner, with an engaging combination of guilelessness and perseverance in the face of antagonism. Cosper used his body in both a Donald O'Connor rubbery kind of way, and with sudden starts and stops, stutters and silences. People trying to kick the habit could make good use of his ability to handle and mutilate cigarettes without smoking them. Both actors showed murderous intent in their hand movements.

The one act play ended so suddenly that no one was sure it was truly over, though logically, there was no place else for it to go. And I don't know that the facts added up. There were several red herrings and aberrant events that were never clarified. But the sensory experience of the play was intriguing. From the moment Gus flushed the toilet, to the sound of Ben slamming Gus into a pole, my attention never waivered from the two guys offering themselves up on the stage. Not bad for a first show.

Lynn Trenning, July 2, 2001

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