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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 3 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 31
Celebrating Harold Pinter
Arts & Entertainment
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Celebrating Harold Pinter

Famed playwright's characters are not easy to like

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

THE PINTER FESTIVAL
ACT THEATRE
Through August 26


ACT Theatre has been nurturing a Harold Pinter aficionado, Frank Corrado, for a number of years. Frank is a passionate producer of Pinter's works, and for a while he had an ongoing series called Pinter Fortnightly. Now, the Nobel Prize-winning playwright (1930-2008) gets a month-long festival at ACT, featuring four fully mounted plays featuring some of the best actors in town.

The first two, one-acts The Dumb Waiter and Celebration, are combined in one evening and opened recently. Two longer plays, No Man's Land and Old Times, open in mid-August.

THE DUMB WAITER One of Pinter's early one-acts, this absurd play has a number of similarities to the Beckett two-hander, Waiting for Godot. As in that play, two men are waiting for something and talking about the waiting. What Darragh Kennan (as Gus) and Charles Leggett (as Ben) are waiting for seems vaguely sinister. It's work-related, and they're waiting for instructions.

As they wait in this dank, moldy room (designed by Robert Dahlstrom so vividly we can almost smell the damp, metallic air), we slowly realize they are in a basement kitchen of a defunct restaurant. They are edgy and their conversation circles around their desire to 'get moving.' But as we learn more about their line of work, the circumstances grow even more absurd. Some matches are pushed under their door in an envelope, but no one is there when they open the door.

Gus is younger and subservient to the gruff and unresponsive Ben. Occasionally, Ben gets very violent and threatening with Gus. The sense of dread begins to move the evening from its initial feeling of comedy to a sense of foreboding.

A sudden grinding noise brings attention to a part of the wall no one had noticed, as a door opens and reveals a dumbwaiter holding an organ grinder's monkey doll and a note requesting food. Stranger requests follow, and Gus and Ben grow more agitated. Eventually Ben gets the notion that responding to the notes and the old-fashioned communication device are part of the next job.

Kennan and Leggett play off each other beautifully. John Langs directs them with relatively realistic pacing, even though there are many Pinter-esque half-sentences and pauses in conversation. However, the ending might leave you wondering what Pinter was trying to say here.

CELEBRATION This one-act is the last Pinter ever wrote. He apparently went to a restaurant and observed some very rude patrons and went home and decided to write a scathing indictment of the snobbery of money.

Some of the funniest lines are when these upper-class snobs are asked what they did earlier in the evening. They can't remember anything about the artistic performances they attended a scant hour before. In the case of two anniversary-celebrating couples - brothers (Frank Corrado and Randy Moore) who married sisters (Anne Allgood and Julie Briskman) - they saw a ballet they can barely recall. In the case of a banker and his wife (Jeffrey Frace and Mariel Neto), they had just seen an opera. 'There was a lot of singing,' Neto's character says.

These couples are eating at this restaurant because of its cache to other upper-class Brits, not because they know good food. Their manners are boorish and insulting. The anniversary husband (Corrado) starts reminiscing about meeting another young woman back in the day, yet his wife (Briskman) gets only mildly miffed at this slap. Their behavior gets worse the more they imbibe.

The wait staff (Peter Crook, Cheyenne Casebier, Benjamin Harris, and Darragh Kennan) have to keep plastering pleasant smiles on their faces, even when Allgood's wife character drunkenly begs to kiss the manager (Crook) on the mouth and Briskman joins in her entreaty.

Kennan has another standout moment as a waiter who keeps interjecting. He almost knows he shouldn't, but can't help himself as he name-drops artistic glitterati that his grandfather apparently spent time with. None of the patrons likely know any of the famous artists he mentions, nor do they care.

Neto gives a specially sparkling performance as a woman who scrambled up the social ladder, though her character has a couple of wince-inducing moments as well. And Dahlstrom's Dumb Waiter set has been turned around, literally, into a posh restaurant.

What the audience gets is not a pleasant kind of humor, but one that pokes fun at people who are easy to dislike. Pinter's disdain for the wealthy and their allegiance to their own set is palpably clear. For more information on these plays and other Pinter Festival events (including a free screening of the film The Birthday Party on August 4), go to www.acttheatre.org or call (206) 292-7676.

Discuss your opinions with sgncritic@gmail.com or to go www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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