I had the pleasure of seeing The Cog and Sprocket’s production of Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waitor at Shō, a fantastic piece of absurdist theatre which had me hooked from beginning to end.
Samuel Beckett’s influence on Pinter is clearly evident in The Dumb Waitor, but Pinter makes some very calculated deviations from the conventions set down by Beckett, making The Dumb Waitor a piece of “practical absurdism” for director Miriam Goldstein-Cedroni. While the situation itself, two men waiting seemingly endlessly for someone to come along, is recognizably an homage to Waiting for Godot, what makes The Dumb Waitor unique are the ways in which Pinter artfully manipulates that situation to create a far more linear but no less thoughtful piece.
The setting is one of the major elements in Pinter’s play which sets it apart from most of its absurdist counterparts, and not only gave the play context but a solid grounding in reality. The set for The Cog and Sprocket’s production used the intimate space to truly put the audience in the basement with Gus and Ben. The setting creates a sort of claustrophobia for the characters, resulting in dynamic tension between the two. The Cog and Sprocket’s production utilized that closeness and extended it to include the audience by placing everyone in close proximity to the action. The anxiety, agitation and anticipation permeate the space and impresses upon the audience that feeling of inescapability.
Gus and Ben themselves are fascinating as characters in the realm of the absurd. Far from their Godot counterparts, Gus and Ben go through moments of intense emotion expressed both verbally and physically which gives the play these moments of mounting tension followed by relief, only to boil up again. Megan Milette (Gus) and Taylor Brimner (Ben) both gave powerhouse performances, breathing such life into the assassins that you couldn’t help but get attached to them. With just the two actors on stage, and nothing but the mechanical dumb waitor to break up the monotony of the character’s condition, so much relies on the strength of their performances and they did not disappoint. I became so invested in what was happening to them and wondering who or what was messing with them, and that concern is wholly due to their exceptional performances.
I was very pleased with the portrayal of Gus and Ben by female actors. I agree that the idea that our suspension of disbelief can’t seem to reach beyond gender is disheartening. What’s even more unbelievable to me is how works like Waiting for Godot come with the stipulation that only men may play those roles. The initial conception behind of Theatre of the Absurd was works showing life for what they truly were, in all of its chaotic glory. Does that mean our world is only populated with men? Or are men’s stories the only way to convey the true nature of the world? By using women to portray these characters, The Cog and Sprocket’s production puts the emphasis on the humanity of the play and thus truly reaches the heart of the Absurd movement and founding ideals.
What really stood out to me about the story of The Dumb Waitor was the fact that it had a definite ending. While that ending is still ambiguous (did he or didn’t he shoot him?), it follows a more linear plot line with subtle hints as to who they’re waiting for dropped throughout the text. Because the audience comes to know and have concern for the characters, it makes the ending all the more startling and impactful. The final moment where Gus and Ben stand there looking at each other made my heart sink. It’s a mesmerizing, breath stealing ending to an engaging, visceral piece of theatre.
Bravo to all of the cast and crew, whose hearts were clearly in the making of this piece and whose dedication and perseverance definitely paid off.