ACT’s Pinter Festival Arouses Our Pinterest
ACT has kicked off its festival celebrating the work of the late Nobel laureate, Harold Pinter (through August 26th; tickets: $30), with a pairing of classic and late short works that offer striking contrasts. Add fine casts and polished sets and there’s little to hold back these shows from being at least pleasant if not revelatory.
The evening begins with The Dumb Waiter, a popular play for survey seminars and scene study for the strength of its form and for its brevity; it is also one of Pinter’s earliest works. ACT has entrusted this two-hander to Darragh Kennan, as Gus, and Charles Leggett, as Ben, a pair of British hit men staking out a job in a vacant restaurant kitchen. These frequent players from Seattle theatre’s upper echelons add polish to their reputations in this production. Though Kennan felt a bit wobbly at times on Thursday night, they held the show together through several technical glitches and kept the audience laughing.
This being Pinter, the comedy isn’t unadulterated. Watching Pinter is a bit like being asked to take cartoons seriously; they’re still funny, but those very human characters—whether cat and mouse or roadrunner and coyote—are doing truly horrible things to one another. This production delivers those goods and for those unfamiliar with Pinter, The Dumb Waiter makes a fine introduction. For the rest of us it can feel a bit hackneyed. The piece is so iconic, despite a paucity of Pinter’s characteristic pauses, that the shock is gone from the final moments.
While Robert Dahlstrom’s set is wonderfully detailed and feels largely accurate the dumbwaiter itself is problematic and not only for its technical glitches. In this production the dumbwaiter appears to be constructed of HVAC ducting. This creates an opportunity for some wonderfully terrifying (if rather canned-feeling) sounds but looks ersatz at best. With another week of performances under their belts the acting and technical support will no doubt be as tight as the second half of the evening.
Where The Dumb Waiter, which debuted in 1957, creaks a bit with age, the 2000 play Celebration is impressive in its contemporary vulgarity. The haute cuisine setting and fixation with image, material gain, and power feel timeless yet specific to this moment in which the culinary has become the highest art. (The integral role of a cell phone interruption also sets the piece in our recent history though this will limit the piece in the long run. Already the lack of texting and the cell phone’s prominent, if fleeting, place make the play feel out of date.)
The script has the feeling of a sunset piece, reflective and valedictorian, shot through with intimations of emotional violence. Brothers (Frank Corrado and Randy Moore) who married sisters (Julie Briskman and Anne Allgood) occupy one restaurant table in celebration of an anniversary while a banker and his wife (Jeffrey Fracé and Mariel Neto) occupy another table nearby. Everyone smiles and is most polite in their affect while one after another makes blithely horrifying revelations and declarations.
Director John Langs manages the challenging staging with ingenuity as restaurant staff fill the stage in a tangled choreography, and just prevents Darragh Kennan from stealing the show. Here Kennan plays a waiter who repeatedly interjects with increasingly improbable and inane stories that almost make sense and bring to mind Woody Allen’s “Lost Generation” sketch.
Despite this competition Frank Corrado’s Lambert holds the center of the show like a mild version of the character played by Michael Gambon (who played Lambert in a TV version of Celebration) in The Thief, The Cook, His Wife, Her Lover. It’s almost as if Pinter has divided himself, with Lambert leading the elites in their portrait of casually destructive power while the waiter plays the not-quite-wise fool who doesn’t quite get the last word.
All told there isn’t a weak spot in this cast including Mariel Neto who has come a long way from her recent seamier appearance on the Seattle stage. She more than holds her own here among the otherwise all Equity cast.
We will see more of these actors before the festival is over on August 26th. Old Times opens August 15th, followed on the 17th by No Man’s Land, and a brief run of Pinter’s sketches. The Dumb Waiter and Celebration are an auspicious start.