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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pinter Festival at A.C.T. Begins With Two Gems—Reviews of "The Dumb Waiter" and "Celebration"

Photo: Multiple - ACT Theatre
I took my seat at A.C.T. Theatre in Seattle and found myself transfixed by a feature of the darkened stage set below. My husband and I had come to see two one-act plays, The Dumb Waiter and Celebration, both by English dramatist Harold Pinter (1930-2008) and the mood of The Dumb Waiter pulled me in at once.

Even before the lights come up, you can see that the backdrop is a facsimile of a stained and dirty concrete block wall with a door in the middle and pipes and conduits showing—typical of a basement in a commercial building circa 1930s. In front of that sit two jail-style metal beds. Through a vent above the door, light glows from an unknown source behind the slowly turning blades of a fan. The light slices a long, angled wound through the darkened space and casts a shadow of the fan onto the floor of the stage where the shadow’s own turning blades seem to continue slicing, in unison with the others.

ACT- The Dumb Waiter - Darragh Kennan, Charles Leggett
Photo: Chris Bennion
The plays we were about to see are the first two of four presented as part of The Pinter Festival running July 20-August 26 at A.C.T- A Contemporary Theatre. We expected comedy, and we found plenty to laugh at in the verbal jousting and actions of The Dumb Waiter’s only two characters: Darragh Kennan as Gus and Charles Leggett as Ben. They sit or recline on the beds, Ben often reading the newspaper and talkative Gus often up and moving about nervously, as they wait for something. The more Gus tries to communicate with Ben, the more irritated Ben becomes, and the comical banter takes on an edge of foreboding.
ACT- The Dumb Waiter - (close up) Darragh Kennan, Charles Leggett
Photo: Chris Bennion
Meanwhile, those fan blades continue to turn. They suggest the presence of things unseen and dangerous in this dark comedy, such as whoever keeps sending messages down by way of a toy monkey in the dumb waiter. Each trip increases the terrible tension, even as this pair, so reminiscent of Abbot and Costello, make the audience laugh.

ACT- The Dumb Waiter - (pointing with monkey) Darragh Kennan, Charles Leggett
Photo: Chris Bennion
Pinter was the master of tension, uncertainty, and the struggle for control, famous for his pauses between lines. In the program for the plays, Mariel Neto—a member of the cast of Celebration—offered her favorite Pinter quote: “Below the spoken word is something known and unspoken.”

All evening we felt the power of those somethings. In The Dumb Waiter, the characters of these men and the ugly nature of their jobs (as well as the hints of danger to Gus) are revealed one disturbing hunch at a time. The messages from the dumb waiter add to the sense of frustration and confusion. In Pinter’s dialog, every word carries the double weight of its surface meaning and another, hidden, meaning. Absolutely superb acting by Kennan and Leggett add to these and captivate the audience.

ACT-Celebration (Getting into it) Anne Allgood, Julie Briskman, Frank Corrado, Randy Moore
Photo: Chris Bennion
 Celebration offers comedy of a lighter nature but still flaunts and manipulates those unspoken somethings in human relationships. In this case, we study relationships between two long-married couples. The action takes place in a restaurant where these couples (oddly, two brothers married to two sisters) have come to celebrate the wedding anniversary of the couple named Julie and Lambert, played by Julie Briskman and Frank Corrado. Their companions are Prue and Matt, played by Anne Allgood and Randy Moore.

ACT-Celebration (Gold chains and wine) Frank Corrado
Photo: Chris Bennion
Waiters keep the wine flowing as the foursome keeps consuming and revealing truths about their relationships through their words. Corrado’s generous servings of profanity are too funny and well placed to offend and Allgood’s hilarious comments and behavior could cause death by laughter. Briskman and Moore also excelled in their roles.

At a table nearby, sits another couple. Sexy former secretary Suki (Mariel Neto) confesses her behind-the-filing-cabinet adventures to Russell (Jeffrey Fracé) and soon recognizes Lambert as a past office acquaintance. Eventually all three couples end up at the same table where awkwardness combines with drunkenness in a delightful mess.
ACT-Celebration (Jump) Julie Briskman, Randy Moore, Frank Corrado, Mariel Neto, Jeffrey Fracé
Photo: Chris Bennion
But all through this play, the restaurant owner and employees weave in their own issues. Darragh Kennan, who played Gus in The Dumb Waiter, reappears as a waiter in Celebration, a waiter who just can’t help interjecting his own points (exaggerated claims about his ancestors) into the diners’ conversations, while trying to avoid the attention of his boss. Each time he does, it seems funnier, yet we also see something pathetic about him. In both plays, Kennan shows what I believe is one of Pinter’s major points, and that is the human desire to be genuingly heard and recognized.

Cast pictured (Left to Right, Back Row First): Peter Crook, Benjamin Harris, Darragh Kennan, Charles Leggett, Cheyenne Casebier, (Front Row) Frank Corrado, Randy Moore, Mariel Neto, Jeffrey Fracé, Anne Allgood, and Julie Briskman
Photo: LaRae Lobdell
The struggles for power, the tensions, and the barriers created by veiled communication keep these two plays moving forward with mounting interest and never a pause in the pleasure, regardless of how many appear in the script. Like the space good jazz musicians put into their solos, words and silence hold equal importance. They balance, pull back and forth, and keep us captive in our seats with the wish that it will never end.

I highly recommend these plays and cannot imagine a more talented or engaging cast. Don’t miss the rare chance to experience this special event.
 For information and tickets, please follow this link: The Pinter Festival at A.C.T.

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