If Abbott and Costello were in a Quentin Tarantino film, you’d get The Dumb Waiter.
Kate Story directs two of Peterborough finest actors — Dan Fewings and Brad Brackenridge — in a one-act dark comedy which is as funny as it is suspenseful.
Written by esteemed British playwright Harold Pinter, The Dumb Waiter is a character study of two hit men, Ben and Gus, who are waiting to go out on a job.
Settled in a dark and windowless nondescript space, the two become fascinated by an old dumb waiter that delivers food orders to the space they are inhabiting. Is it a mistake, or is there more to the messages being delivered to the men?
What seems to be a simple plot turns into a study of paranoia, and quickly becomes a pocket-sized Hitchcock thriller. The past and present are only hinted at, allowing the audience to come up with their own gritty conclusions. However, these conclusions are only secondary in the plot. Instead, it’s an attempt to make two killers seem likeable and invite you into their dark reality.
Peterborough favorite Dan Fewings takes the role of Ben, the haggard elder hit man and leader of the pair. Brad Brackenridge, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors, takes the role of his slightly daft partner Gus, who is the more sensitive and talkative of the two. Propelling the drama is the interplay between the two actors, with Fewings as the straight man and Brackenridge as the comic foil.
But it’s more than just exchanging witty banter and performing lines that makes this production work.
The performers are totally in sync with one another, in ways beyond that of most performers. The Dumb Waiter relies on timing, and is a production where a dramatic pause says more than words, and where a long silence creates a sense of tension and suspense.
Fewings and Brackenridge create intensity on the stage in both words and silence, painting complex characters in what is, essentially, a short drama. They manage to do so much in a small period of time by conveying boredom, regret, fear, anger, paranoia, and annoyance via a funny script.
The result is a perfect performance from two of Peterborough’s best.
The success of The Dumb Waiter goes beyond the talents of the actors on the stage. Adding to the unique atmosphere is the use of The Theatre on King’s physical space. The minimalistic set is built up in a very small space with the audience so close to the actors that you can reach out and touch them.
As the suspense builds, you can almost hear the actors breathe, feel the growing tension, and smell their sweat — creating a close quartered and claustrophobic sensation that draws you deeper into Gus and Ben’s dark world. The actors are not so much on a stage as the audience is in the room with them, creating a “fly on the wall” effect and making a very daring and different dynamic between the actors and the audience.
With The Dumb Waiter, director Kate Story and her company have brought underground theatre back to Peterborough after what has been a very long hiatus. This is the essence of Grindhouse drama: dark, daring and dramatic. The group has pushed the envelope of alternative theatre in Peterborough with great results.
Hopefully, this is the beginning of a new type of theatrical movement in this city. Although Peterborough has a vibrant theatre community, alternative productions being performed by great talents like this is a much welcome escape from bigger productions by more established theatre companies.
The Dumb Waiter runs Wednesday, February 26th through Saturday, March 1st at 8 p.m. at The Theatre on King. Tickets are $15.
However, be warned that space is limited at The Theatre on King and only 40 seats are available for each performance. Make sure to arrive early.