By Sara Elizabeth Taylor
November 25 – December 6, 2014
CALGARY — It’s safe to say that I have never had, and probably never will have again, as strong a visceral and mental reaction to a play as I did to Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter.
I know, I know: a reviewer shouldn’t refer to themselves in their review. But part of the power of The Dumb Waiter is the intense reaction it inspires in the audience. I’m sure I’m not the only one who stumbled out of the theatre feeling claustrophobic, paranoid and disoriented. I’m sure I’m not the only one who struggled to put my feelings about the play into words. And I’m sure – or at least, I hope – I’m not the only one who had moments during the play where I thought I might be losing my mind; and all from a mere 60 minutes in the EPCOR Centre’s MOTEL theatre.
Two assassins – played by two women actors as opposed to the men written into the original – lie in wait in a stark and stale basement room, anticipating the signal to begin the job. But suddenly, a dumb waiter crashes down from the supposedly abandoned cafe above bearing an order. The two assassins quickly turn on each other, paranoid and distrusting of the other.
The two actresses played their parts absolutely brilliantly: Rachel Gilliatt as Ben was menacing, dominating, and controlled, while Meredith Pritchard’s Gus displayed an almost childlike wonder and naivete. At times they writhe about onstage, contorting like insects under a magnifying glass, before snapping back to normal, causing the audience to wonder if they just imagined what they saw or if it was real. In watching clips of other interpretations of the play, it’s clear that their mannerisms and way of speaking was Theatre Encounter’s own take on the characters, and it truly adds a dark layer to the play.
If it’s true what Miles Davis said about jazz that “It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play,” then The Dumb Waiter is not about the things we see, it’s the things we don’t see: the incident before the play that causes Gus’s black eye (which is never addressed); the words spoken from an offstage mystery character that only Ben hears; the action that happens in the final moments of the play that lead to its ultimate conclusion.
And what was the ultimate conclusion? Don’t worry; I won’t ruin it for you, because I hardly know myself. The Dumb Waiter is definitely not the type of play for people who like things to be wrapped up in a nice little bow at the end. The unexpected shocks, the long silences, and the many, many unanswered questions all came together to create a truly unique mind-fuck. But if you’re open to letting it wash over you, then The Dumb Waiter will truly be a memorable theatre experience.
The Dumb Waiter runs at EPCOR Centre’s MOTEL until December 6th.AB, Alberta, EPCOR Centre, EPCOR Centre MOTEL, live theatre, live theatre review, The Dumb Waiter