Opening Nights: Celebration and The Dumb Waiter

Wishing the silences would sing.

There are specialized clubs for port, for pistols, for Pomeranians . . . and for playwright Harold Pinter, whose prickly, often unresolved works are hardly a popular cup of tea. Yet since Pinter's 2008 death, ACT has become Seattle's unofficial Pinter club. To prepare for this year's Pinter Festival, I saw The Caretaker this spring at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and finally I understood what the fuss was about. His iconic silences are like a mutating weather map of mood, conveying a remarkable amount of what seems like narrative information. (It helped also that Jonathan Pryce led the cast.) Coming home for this nicely polished Pinter two-fer, performed back-to-back with an intermission, I missed the apparently effortless, second-to-second specificity that can make those silences (and subtexts) sing.

The Dumb Waiter concerns two hit men awaiting instructions for their next job. Cutups Darragh Kennan and Charles Leggett, who routinely clean up around town in non-Pinter fare, here play their roles too broadly. The laughs seem more the goal of, rather than the fortuitous byproduct of, character. Leggett's alpha Ben is an opaque figure, offering no discernible clues to his chronic irritation (unless you happen to know the ending, which most Pinterists already do). Kennan reveals a bit more complexity as the submissive Gus, but the flatness of John Langs' directing cedes the interest of the piece to the dumb waiter itself, an appliance whose vicious openings and closings, dramatized by Rick Paulsen's occult lighting, turn Ben and Gus into the quavering victims of a capricious universe.

The evening hits its stride in the more accessible ensemble piece Celebration (also directed by Langs). Here, Robert Dahlstrom's set, an upscale 1980s restaurant, reflects the satirical bent of the play, in which restaurant staffers outclass their crass patrons. Among the latter, as Lambert, Frank Corrado's mastery of the oeuvre shows in his character's feather-light meanness. Why Lambert's wife (Julie Briskman) simply accepts his cutting insults is never clear; maybe Pinter offers no guidance in the text, but one wishes Langs would give us—and his cast—some clues. As a server catering to the revelers' satisfaction, Cheyenne Casebier casually reveals her lofty pedigree. Meanwhile, Kennan's waiter feels compelled to "interject" repeatedly to brag about an important (and improbable) ancestor. Though not particularly precise or riveting, this production serves an appropriate menu of aspirational pathos.

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