The Summary of the Play The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pintor

The Dumb Waiter is a one-act play which was written in 1957 and premiered at the Hampstead Theatre Club, London, in 1960. In this tragicomic play, two hitmen named Gus and Ben wait for a target to show up. Soon their sense of reality begins to falter, and strange events unfold inside the basement. The play’s absurd series of events is characteristic of Pinter’s work, which exposed the irrational features and backward logic of modern stories and dilemmas.

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The play takes place entirely in a basement with a small kitchenette and several twin beds. As it opens, Gus is in the middle of tying his shoes, and Ben is reading the news. Ben tells Gus that he has just read a story about a vehicle killing an old man. Gus murmurs that he hopes their job will be over quickly. Ben talks about another news story, and Gus asks why the bathroom toilet takes so long to flush. Gus complains that his job requires him to sleep poorly in unfamiliar rooms and work in the dead of night. Having filled itself with water, the toilet flushes offstage. The two men talk vaguely about their drive to work that morning; Gus brings up a Birmingham soccer game that the two once saw together. Ben states that he never went to such an event.

Suddenly, a sealed envelope slides beneath the door. Gus opens it, finding twelve matches enclosed. Ben tells Gus to open the door to see if anyone is there. Gun in hand, Gus opens it but sees no one. Ben tells him to use a match to light the kettle. This devolves into a pointless discussion about the meaning of the phrase “light the kettle.” Their argument becomes heated, and Ben reminds Gus that he is his superior.

When Gus returns, he says that the stove is no longer working because it needs more coins to operate. Ben replies that a man named Wilson will help them, but Gus is skeptical that he will come in person since he often sends messages. Gus suggests that Wilson must own every building where they carry out murders because no neighbors have ever noticed them. Ben replies that Wilson rents out the properties. Gus seems distraught over their last victim; a girl whose murder was messy.

A sudden sound comes from the wall; the men find a dumb waiter with a piece of paper inside which is a list of food. The dumb waiter retracts upwards to another floor. Ben rationalizes the event, stating that the building once contained a cafe and kitchen. Ben decides to pile all of their food on a plate and send it up. The dumb waiter returns with a demand for “high class” food.

Noticing a tube that can transmit voice messages to the cafe, Gus shouts that they have no food. Meanwhile, Ben verbally rehearses the impending murder. Gus leaves for the bathroom and returns with no audible sound of the toilet flushing. He tries to force Ben to tell him who is upstairs, saying he is no longer willing to play around. Ben strikes Gus on the shoulder, and then another order comes on the dumb waiter. They fight once more, and then fall silent. Ben returns to his newspaper and the dumb waiter retreats upstairs. It returns, but they ignore it.

Gus goes into the kitchen for a drink of water and while he is gone, Ben gets the call saying the target will arrive soon. He calls to Gus, but when the door opens, it is Gus himself. The play ends with Ben facing his partner with a raised gun.

As frequently characterized in many Pinteresque plays, the latent part of the play is open - ended and has a touch-hint of a tragic end. The play is full of absurd elements and the audience has to watch and speculate drama for better interpretation.


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