The Dumb Waiter, Pinter’s second play, was his first critical success. A short one-act piece, it opened in English performance at the Hampstead Theatre Club in 1960 as a double bill with Pinter’s first play, The Room, and immediately established Pinter’s reputation as an important new voice in contemporary theater. Though Pinter draws his theme and plot from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, the treatment is highly original and contains all the stylistic trademarks that Pinter developed in his later work.
The most distinctive Pinteresque touch in the play is how the primary action acquires a secondary, allegorical meaning while never compromising the realistic grounding of the story. Moreover, while none of his other plays invites such a clearly allegorical interpretation, this technique of creating situations that, no matter how concrete, suggest larger, more abstract meanings became a standard device in Pinter’s writing.
The plot of The Dumb Waiter is so straightforward that it is deceivingly simple. The story concerns the lives of two thugs—possibly killers—on the night of a new assignment. The uncertainty of their situation, however, is remarkable: They do not know who has hired them or who their victim will be. They are merely waiting for their orders. For diversion, Ben concentrates on his newspaper, while Gus, the more inquisitive of the two and ultimately the most vulnerable, nags him with questions about their assignment. The menacing tone becomes more pronounced as Ben begins reading newspaper...
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