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Michael Hanrahan (left) as Peter and Stuart Hughes as Jerry in <i>The Zoo Story</i>
Michael Hanrahan (left) as Peter and Stuart Hughes as Jerry in The Zoo Story

Theatre Review: The Dumb Waiter & The Zoo Story at the NAC, Ottawa

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A double bill of The Dumb Waiter & The Zoo Story runs in the Studio Theatre at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa through November 5. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has our review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

It's rare to have the opportunity to see a double bill of two classic plays that have both been so influential in the development of 20th century theatre.  THE DUMB WAITER by Harold Pinter, first produced in 1960, and THE ZOO STORY by Edward Albee, first produced in 1959 and revised by Mr. Albee in 1999, are two such classic one-acts.  I'm not going to attempt to describe what the plays are about, as that's a subject for a doctoral dissertation, not a review.  Someone once asked Mr. Pinter what his plays were about and he replied, "The weasel under the cocktail cabinet."  It was very entertaining at intermission listening to the people behind us trying to explain THE DUMB WAITER to each other. I'll just say that both plays are engrossing, powerful, startling, frightening and funny.

The double bill at the NAC is a production of the Soulpepper Theatre Company of Toronto.  The two actors who appear in both plays as well as the two directors are founding members of this highly respected company, which has remounted for the NAC this acclaimed production from their 2004 season.

The sets by Steve Lucas are very good, and the projected backdrop for THE ZOO STORY gave the play an unusual lyrical quality.  Louise Guinand's lighting is just fine, as are Erika Connor's costumes.  I liked the touch of Peter's sock less loafers.  John Lott's sound design for both plays is outstanding.

Speaking of outstanding, these two actors surely are that.  Michael Hanrahan plays Ben in THE DUMB WAITER and Peter in THE ZOO STORY.  Both characters are fully drawn, and his subtle reactions to Jerry in THE ZOO STORY, especially to the dog story, are a lesson in body language and how to listen.  As Gus in THE DUMB WAITER and Jerry in THE ZOO STORY Stuart Hughes is equally strong.  He finds all the levels of humanity in Jerry and gives complex meaning to the story of Jerry and the dog.

Ted Dykstra who directed THE DUMB WAITER and Diana Leblanc who directed THE ZOO STORY have both done a great job with these complex pieces.  They've retained all the humor and humanity in the plays without neglecting the sense of fear and isolation.

Harold Pinter is the recipient of too many awards to mention, not the least of which is the 2005 Nobel Prize for literature.  Edward Albee has also won multiple awards including three Pulitzer Prizes.  This double bill is a chance to see why their work has been so honored, so influential and so long lasting.  The sold-out house at the opening night certainly appreciated the performance.

On a scale of one to five the Soulpepper Theatre Company's production of THE DUMB WAITER and THE ZOO STORY at the NAC gets four and seven-eighths Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.  

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