Just a Couple of Guys and a Couple of Guns
You’re going to hang out with a couple of guys in a squalid place for about an hour, but chances are that you’re going to like it. The two gentlemen in question are a couple of guys with a couple of guns who are waiting around to hear about what it is that they’re supposed to do. It’s Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter and it’s being staged at the Alchemist Theatre this month.
Erin Nicole Eggers has done an admirable job staging the script. A single hour of realtime conversation between a couple of British hitmen can go wrong so many ways. The challenge with Pinter’s work is to make it one, long, continuous build-up of dramatic tension between a couple of guys that detonates at the end emotionally. With all the pauses and tangents and things that Pinter throws in the path of a moving drama, it can be really difficult to keep the whole thing from getting derailed. Eggers does a really good job of fostering an atmosphere that keeps it all together.
Claudio Parrone Jr. plays the twitchy one: a guy named Gus. He’s restless and cranky. He occasionally brings-up a recent hit involving a woman that seems to have rattled him. There’s something haunting him. The challenge here is not to exaggerate the character’s nervousness. He’s also got more than a few funny moments. The challenge there is not to have them overpower the drama. Parrone renders the characters nervousness in a serious of nervous actions and silences that brilliantly shadow the script. One of Parrone’s biggest accomplishments here is simply letting his stage presence be roughly half the character. There’s a kind of restless exhaustion that Parrone is able to harness in a way that makes him crushingly vulnerable. He occasionally looks to his associate with the kind of soulful eyes one might expect out of a wounded puppy. It’s a very emotionally engaging performance.
David Sapiro plays Ben: the relatively calm, quiet one. There’s a lot going on beyond the moment for him. He seems preoccupied. Pinter doesn’t exactly give the actor a whole lot to work with here as far as delivering a background to the character. The character needs to have a very complicated unspoken background in order for his half of the play to work at all, though. Sapiro plays it with an impressively organic silence. He’s distracted, but more than that he’s trying to keep himself distracted as he waits for the orders he knows are coming. Sapiro does a marvelous job of making it all seem very lived-in. As an audience, we assume that characters onstage are supposed to have lives beyond the play, but as an audience we are usually doing most of the conceptual work in making that world onstage beyond the set seem real. Here Sapiro is doing a lot of subtle things that make the world beyond the squalor the characters inhabit seem very real.
It’s a very engrossing hour, even its more silent moments. The one hour length pairs well with other activity that might be going on later in the evening. Pinter paints the silences in a live theatre in a way that makes silence in the world beyond the theater that much more interesting. It’s fun to climb out into a social evening after Pinter, especially when it’s done as well as it is here. Walk out of the theatre. Hang out at the bar and imagine that one or two of the strangers there might well be hit men like Gus or Ben who have come in to join the crowd . . .
The Alchemist Theatre’s staging of The Dumb Waiter runs through Apr. 23 at the Alchemist’s space on 2569 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. For ticket reservations and more, visit Alchemist Theatre online.