Spotlight: The Dumb Waiter

John Largaespada

In Harold Pinter's 1960 play, Ben (Chris Carlson) and Gus (Steve Sweere) are hanging fire in an anonymous room. They seem innocuous enough, sharing their mild outrage as Gus reads an article from the newspaper about the murder of a kitten, but the matter of the shoulder holster draped over a chair hints otherwise. Soon enough we learn that the pair are hit men awaiting a message informing them of their next target. It is an odd play, mining the same vein as Beckett; in this Actors' Equity Showcase production it benefits from being staged in Jeune Lune's intimate secondary space, and Carlson and Sweere carve out credible characters from the script's British gangster outline. Done up like leftover Reservoir Dogs, in black suits and ties, Ben and Gus muse on crisps, teapots, and the nature of cleaning up after their profession with the sort of humdrum, shooting-shit-on-the-job blitheness made standard by Travolta and Jackson. Sweere plays Gus as the dim, clumsy, easily led subordinate to Carlson's Ben, who is all glares and menace. The two chat with varying degrees of boredom and nerves until a series of increasingly bizarre food orders begins arriving via a previously overlooked dumbwaiter. At this point a sense of menace enters the proceedings--mostly due to how the development rattles the until-then homicidally self-assured Ben. Whether they're expected to fill the orders or whether someone is playing tricks on their minds is never established, and this Ben Kernan-directed production is lacking in the feints and acts of misdirection that might tighten the suspense. The actors' interplay is particularly fine, though. By the time Ben starts to suffer from an obvious case of foreboding, the dread over what is to come reflects the degree to which Carlson and Sweere have made us like these nutty serial killers. In all, 70 minutes of amoral absurdist bleakness leavened with humor. Good fun.

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