Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

The Dumb Waiter

West End Productions
Review by Wally Gordon

Also see Rob's reviews of The Old White Lady Tells It and Shining City

Yannig Morin and Carl Savering
Photo by Russell Maynor
"One way of looking at speech," playwright Harold Pinter once wrote, "is to say that it is a constant stratagem to cover nakedness." Now, West End Productions is bringing this verbal nakedness to the Albuquerque stage in a brilliantly acted and directed but thoroughly befuddling production.

Over the course of half a century, Pinter won a Nobel prize and created the most formidable body of theatrical work in post-World War II Britain. His unique specialty lay not in what his characters said but in what they didn't say. Pauses, lies, irrelevancies and circumlocutions reveal character. This method of narration puts a lot of demands on the audience, demands that were fully in evidence on the opening night of The Dumb Waiter.

West End Productions devotes itself to classic and contemporary British and Irish plays, and no one in those isles has contributed more to revolutionizing the theater than Pinter. Audiences everywhere continue to be engaged and mystified by his language, even in his earliest and slightest one-act plays, such as The Dumb Waiter.

The play has only two characters, Ben (Yannig Morin) and Gus (Carl Savering). It gradually emerges that they are professional assassins preparing for still another in a long line of killings. While waiting for final instructions they are holed up in a windowless basement cubicle. The claustrophobic, barren, and rather ominous set (by Joe Feldman) is a perfect mood setter.

Ben is the boss, but Gus is the talkative one, and his irrelevant musings, unanswered questions, and passive-aggressive challenges to Gus dominate their dialogue. Savering does a masterful job of capturing the working-class bewilderment of what can only be called a gentle thug.

Ben, on the other hand is frequently angry, although the things that set him off seem insignificant. He spends much of the time reading and discussing a newspaper, then periodically explodes for no rational or relevant reason.

A third character with an onstage presence as vivid as the two men is a dumbwaiter. The door of the dumbwaiter is at center stage. It and the speaking tube attached to it are the two men's way of communicating with the outside world.

Those communications are as puzzling to the audience as to Gus and Ben. Notes demanding elaborate meals descend the dumbwaiter, perhaps because the room may have been a kitchen, although it does not even have a stove, only a three-burner hot plate. To silence the demands, Gus and Ben send all their snacks back up the dumbwaiter, but in return receive only a note criticizing their offerings.

Finally, Ben receives a long-awaited call over the speaking tube giving him the details of the murder he is to perform. I don't want to spoil the mystery by disclosing the results of that call.

One subtle bit of punctuation is perhaps a tipoff to the plot. While "dumbwaiter" is normally one word, in the play's title it appears as two words, as if "dumb" were an adjective describing the ignorance of a person who waits.

Much of the significance of Pinter's plays depends on the subtlety of the director, and Joe Feldman develops Pinter's themes felicitously. To pick one not-so-small example, in a Pinter play timing is everything, and so far as I can judge, the timing in this production is impeccable.

There are some interesting interrelationships here. Feldman is the husband of Colleen Neary McClure, the artistic director and founder of the company. And Morin and McClure both acted in a recent production of Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood.

West End Productions' The Dumb Waiter runs through March 22, 2020, at VSA North Fourth Art Center, 4904 4th ST. NW, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. For tickets and information, call 505-404-8462 or go to