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Dumb Waiter


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A: Harold Pinter Pf: 1959, Frankfurt am Main; 1960, London Pb: 1960 G: Com. in 1 act S: Basement somewhere in England, 1950s. C: 2mTwo men, Ben and Gus, who appears the more dominant, are lying on beds in a basement room conversing desultorily, discussing items from the newspaper and arguing about making the tea. They talk about their ‘upcoming assignment’ and wonder when they will be informed of the details. An envelope is slid under the door, but it does not contain any instructions. Fetching a revolver from under his pillow, Gus opens the door, but there is no one there. Suddenly there is a clatter behind the serving hatch in the middle of the back wall: it is a ‘dumb waiter’, a service lift to the upper floors. In the dumb waiter is an order for a cooked two-course meal with tea. Increasingly exotic orders arrive, so Gus and Ben send up what they can in an attempt to satisfy whoever is sending down the orders: crisps, biscuits, and an Eccles cake. Gus discovers a speaking tube and apologizes that they could not fulfil the orders and for the fact that what they sent was not good enough. They now plan the killing for which they have been summoned. Responding to a whistle from the speaking tube, Ben listens to further instructions and is asked to prepare for the arrival of the victim, while Gus goes off to get a glass of water. Ben calls for Gus, who staggers into the room, stripped of his jacket and revolver. Ben raises his revolver, and they stare at each other in silence.

A: Harold Pinter Pf: 1959, Frankfurt am Main; 1960, London Pb: 1960 G: Com. in 1 act S: Basement somewhere in England, 1950s. C: 2m

In this short and very funny piece, Pinter continued his skill at blending comedy with menace. Here, two figures like Goldberg and McCann from The Birthday Party become more and more desperate to appease the authority controlling them from above until one is obliged to exterminate the other. While theatrical metaphors of religion and rigid hierarchies suggest themselves, one must be reminded of Pinter's statement that he wouldn't recognize a symbol if he saw one.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Harold Pinter (1930—2008) English dramatist, actor, and director


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