The OBIE Award-winning National Asian American Theater Company (NAATCO) begins its 22nd season with The Dumb Waiter, written by the Nobel laureate Harold Pinter. Andrew Pang directs a cast that includes Louis Ozawa Changchien (Gus) and Stephen Park (Ben), as well as a sound effects technician, visible to the audience, Adam W. Cochran.
The Dumb Waiter is a quick little one act, which feels more like an appetizer to a meal than a night at the theater. With that said, the actors do a wonderfully good job in their performance of Pinter’s play. Also remarkable are the aesthetic choices made to produce this play. Jean-Pierre Jeunet would be proud. The stage, costumes and lighting are reminiscent of Jeunet’s film Delicatessen. It is dingy, clanky, drippy and worn. There are signs that the room, where Ben and Gus lie waiting, was once something of grandeur. The Duo Theater was a good choice in this matter, since the stage is lined with paintings displaying nice student renditions of Rococo.
Pinter’s genius lies in the fact that the audience never quite knows what will happen next, and the characters are thrown curve balls left and right. The Dumb Waiter does not disappoint in keeping you waiting in anticipation for the next moment, and you are caught up quite easily in the plot.
Two hit men, Ben and Gus, wait in a deteriorating basement room for their final instructions on their next assignment. Ben, the senior member, sits calmly and reservedly reading and rereading the newspaper. As mundane conversations drone on, the tension mounts, and then is completely surpassed by a dumbwaiter arriving in the back wall — with an order.
The orders keep coming and the characters are increasingly puzzled. They send up Gus’s snack food, and call out into a speaking tube that they have no food in the basement. Finally, Gus leaves the room for some water and the dumb waiter’s speaking tube whistles. Ben takes the tube and listens. He is, at last, told the target for the hit.
Louis Ozawa Changchien (Gus) and Stephen Park (Ben) give adept performances with only a slight tear in the imaginary veil of British accents. Andrew Pang chose wisely these actors for the roles, as well as the style and nature of the production of the play. However, Pang may have carried too strict a vision, and thus directs his actors almost to the point of human marionettes, which causes some of the characters’ actions to read inorganic. However, Pang did succeed in garnering well-acted and believable performances, keeping Ben reserved, Gus chaotic, and the plot moving forward.
NAATCO’s production of The Dumb Waiter is preceded each night by a reading of another one-act play by guest actors. This little addition is delightful, but the nature of these short one-act plays does conjure desires for more. The Dumb Waiter’s original staging was in Germany in 1959, but the following year the play was produced as part of a double bill in London with The Room. Maybe NAATCO should have taken a lesson from history and offered two one-acts instead during the run.
Fantastical, funny and slightly disturbing, NAATCO’s The Dumb Waiter is a good aperitif to an evening out, at least something to whet your appetite for more productions by NAATCO.
The Dumb Waiter; Written by Harold Pinter; Directed by Andrew Pang; The Duo Theater; 62 East 4th Street; www.naatco.org