Harold Pinter The Dumb Waiter / first performed at the Hampstead Theatre Club, London on January 21, 1960 / subsequently performed at the Royal Court Theater, London, on March 8, 1960
Harold Pinter The Caretaker and The Dumb Waiter (New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1961)
The "dumb waiter" of Pinter's play of the same name is, of course, Gus, who with his partner Ben murders unknown individuals they are assigned. Each time they meet in a room and wait for the arrival of the victim, accomplish the dark deed, and leave. This time around they are holed up in a small room that appears it may once have been a kitchen for a restaurant or bar above, a presumption they must accept since there is a dumb waiter and a speaking-tube between the floors.
Gus is dumb not only in his inability to fully express himself but in his choice of career—although unlike his partner, Ben, he seems to have some sort of sense of guilt, at least, for their last job, the murder of a girl:
GUS: I was just thinking about that girl, that's all.
GUS sits on the bed.
She wasn't much to look at, but still. It was a mess though, wasn't
it? What a mess. Honest, I can't remember a mess like that one.
They don't seem to hold together like men, women. A looser
texture, like. Didn't she spread, eh? She didn't half spread. Kaw! But
I've been meaning to ask you.
BEN sits up and clenches his eyes.
Who clears up after we've gone?
It is perhaps these second thoughts, emanating from the horrible memory of the body obviously torn asunder by their gunshots, that threatens the end of his service. For what character and audience simultaneously discover in the final moments is that he is the victim this time around; as he goes out for a drink of water, he returns to find himself facing Ben with gun in hand.
At least he questions, wonders if those in charge are not toying with them, giving them matches, for example, when they know there is nothing to light. Ben, although more literate—he reads the newspaper over and over, commenting on the ordinary events it describes as if they were more horrendous than the murders he commits—but he does not ever challenge the authority of what he describes as the "organisation." For him it is a large system with "departments for everything."
Ben, in fact, although smarter than Gus, may be a sort of dumber waiter, about which the men's final staredown at the end of the play hints. This time he must kill Gus; but next time might it not be himself who is called upon to unknowingly pass through the doorway?
Los Angeles, January 5, 2009