“The Dumb Waiter” and “Celebration” A Pinter Feast at ACT Theatre

Delicious! There’s no other way to describe the first two plays in the ACT Pinter festival. This is the ideal opportunity for those of you who are Pinter-phobic because you’ve heard he’s too intellectual to delight in his humor as well as his insights into the agony of human existence. You’ll beg for more.

This first production consists of two short works, very different, but very funny. “The Dumb Waiter” takes place in a dismal basement where the fluorescent lights flicker uncontrollably, and two suit-clad men lie about on dirty metal cots. They are here waiting for a mysterious job call.

The gruff headman (wonderfully and eerily played by Charles Leggett) reads a British tabloid harumping from time to time over banal or slightly freakish articles. He’s mostly incommunicative but his very demeanor exudes anger, repressed rage.

His colleague (appropriately played as inept and edgy by Darragh Kennan) is a much younger and smaller font of banality as he tries to communicate with his partner. Suddenly there’s a screeching sound of metal on metal. It’s the dumb waiter holding a toy monkey with a food order. There’s not even a working kitchen in this basement. It’s absurd! The absurdities increase, as does the tension. The mood is sinister, yet the cockeyed conversation between the two highly skilled actors keeps you laughing. There is a denouement, but you’ll have to see the play to find out what it is.

“Celebration” takes place in a posh restaurant where two couples celebrate the wedding anniversary of one of them, and a third couple joins them near the end of the meal. What a party it is! Boisterous, replete with loutish stories, it’s a sad little evening of one-upsmanship. Their vulgarities and demeaning swipes at one another reveal the holes in their lives, lives where the ability to spend money substitutes for meaningful existence.

One of the waiters periodically breaks into this boorish event by serving up, along with the courses, an absurd list of people his grandfather knew. He does this name-dropping in the manner of a schoolboy reciting his lessons.

But don’t be misled. This unseemly party is probably the funniest you’ll ever witness. Director John Langs’ ensemble members play off each other with perfect timing and finesse as they spout Pinter’s hilarious script. Body language is as finely played as are the words. Be particularly alert to Anne Allgood. Her facial expressions can be read like a book, a very, very funny book.

This has been a summer of particularly good theatre in Seattle. This show is one of the best.

Through Aug. 26 (check the schedule for all the Pinter productions and events), ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle, (206 292-7676 or www.acttheatre.org).

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