Off-Broadway Theater Review: THE DUMB WAITER (National Asian American Theater Company)

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by Victoria Linchong on October 21, 2011

in Theater-New York

WAITING FOR PINTER

National Asian American Theater Company (NAATCO) takes a steampunk spin on The Dumb Waiter, Harold Pinter’s classic absurdist thriller.  Director Andrew Pang makes great use of the ambient details of a run-down building and masterfully guides two very fine actors, Louis Ozawa Changchien and Steven Park, in a The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter at the National Asian American Theater Company (NAATCO) – directed by Andrew Pang – Off Broadway Theater Review by Victoria Linchongsuspenseful study of two characters caught in a deteriorating partnership that is more dead-end than either is ready to admit.

The evening begins with a stream-of-consciousness song of non-sequiturs performed by Andrew W. Cochrane, who seems to have arrived in Pinter-land by way of Cabaret and The Threepenny Opera.  Following this literal note of absurdity, NAATCO plumps up Pinter’s sparse hour-long play with the addition of a curtain raiser comprised of a short Pinter piece.  The evening I attended, Jon Norman Schneider rose from the audience to perform Pinter’s Request Stop with Peter Kim, Jennifer Ikeda and Tiffany Villarin.  The breezy little sketch was charming but gave the production an informal communal feeling that was slightly at odds with the tensely strategized play that followed.

The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter at the National Asian American Theater Company (NAATCO) – directed by Andrew Pang – Off Broadway Theater Review by Victoria Linchong

Much has been written about The Dumb Waiter, Pinter’s 1957 ode to Waiting for Godot, which metaphorically tackles a response to authority and the dynamics of power.  The play is set in a squalid basement where two assassins await orders regarding their next victim from a mysterious boss who might not come.  Gus (Mr. Changchien), a bow-legged, gold-toothed underling, restlessly ambles back and forth to the bathroom, keeping up a steady stream of nervous chatter while his superior, Ben (Mr. Park), studies a tabloid paper.  Through praise of the crockery, quibbling over tea, and denunciation of the ridiculous articles in the newspaper, we become aware of a growing tenseness between the two men, especially as Gus has begun to question the ethics of their work.  The absurdity of the situation is heightened by the discovery of a dumb waiter in the room, which begins to issue orders for increasingly exotic food, which the hit men illogically attempt to satisfy.

The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter at the National Asian American Theater Company (NAATCO) – directed by Andrew Pang – Off Broadway Theater Review by Victoria LinchongLike most of Pinter’s work, the play requires a director adept at mining the subtext under the seemingly meaningless dialogue.  Pang does a fine job drawing out the apprehension between the two characters, punctuating their interaction with the gurgles, drips, clangs and clonks of a dilapidated building, including the squeakiest door I’ve ever heard.  Everything about the production showed a keen eye for detail, including the costumes by Olivera Gajic, which underscored the relationship between the two men by calling attention to their class background – Ben spiffed up like Oscar Wilde in a morning suit, Gus in a baggy creased sports coat.  In addition to a seedy set that makes great use of the garish cupid murals in the Duo Theatre, set desginer Joseph M. Gourley provides the play with an ingeniously clunky and ominous dumb waiter that on one occasion almost threatens to snap off the head of the hapless Gus who peers up into its entrails.  As Gus, Mr. Changchien plays to broad comedy, calling to mind Buster Keaton (if he were a bug-eyed Asian who spoke with a Cockney accent).  Mr. Park is excellent as the straight man, a gruff and intimidating sergeant in spats.  To be perfectly honest, I’m not personally a Pinter fan, finding it too intellectual, too metaphoric, too forced and esoteric.  But grounded in a heightened reality and strong characterizations, this production manages to find the perfect mixture of mundane reality and gangland bluster to fulfill the play’s famous designation as a comedy of menace.

photos by William P. Steele

The Dumb Waiter
National Asian American Theater Company (NAATCO)
Duo Theater, 62 East Fourth Street – btw 2nd/3rd Avenues
ends on November 6, 2011
for tickets, call 212.868.4444 or visit NAATCO

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