The Play

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

The Dumb Waiter takes place in a windowless basement room with two beds against the back wall and a closed serving hatch between them. A door to the kitchen and lavatory is stage left, and a door to a passage, right. Ben lies on the bed left reading a newspaper. Gus sits on the other bed laboriously tying his shoelaces. Gus rises, yawns, and slowly walks toward the door, left. Stopping, he looks at his shoe and shakes his foot. As Ben watches, Gus unties his shoe. Removing it, he brings out a flattened matchbox and replaces the shoe. After a few steps, he stops and removes the other shoe, taking out a flattened cigarette pack. Ben observes. Gus replaces the shoe and goes off, left. Ben slams down the paper, glares after Gus, and then resumes his reading. A lavatory chain is pulled, off left, but the toilet does not flush. Gus returns, puzzled.

Ben reads in the newspaper of a man who crawls under a truck to cross a busy road. The truck moves and squashes the man. Gus finds the story incredible. In the silence that follows, Gus exits, left. The lavatory chain is pulled but does not work. Ben yells to Gus offstage to make tea. Gus returns, musing over the nice crockery that “he” has provided this time. Ben tells him to make the tea. Gus hopes that this will not be a long job.

Ben reports another news item. A girl of eight has killed a cat. Gus is both incredulous and revolted. Gus asks when “he” will be getting in touch. Ben answers that it could be any time and asks again for tea. Small talk continues about boredom, about arriving too early and having to wait on the road. Gus imagines someone has occupied the room before them and complains of the malodorous sheets. Ben replies that it might be his own smell. Finding out that they are in Birmingham, Gus reminisces about a local football team they once saw there in a championship game. Ben first denies it, then states that it was in Tottenham.

A blank envelope slides under the door, right. Both stare. Gus opens it and finds twelve matches. He opens the door; no one is there. An argument follows about whether the proper phrase is “light the kettle,” as Ben thinks, or “light the gas” and “put on the kettle,” as Gus thinks. Ben wins because he is the senior partner, but then in exasperation he uses Gus’s phrase and says, “Put on the kettle.” Gus exits to do so and returns.

Gus muses on who “it” will be tonight. Then he discovers that the stove has gone out; neither of them has a shilling for the gas meter. Ben checks his...

(The entire section is 1044 words.)