The legacies of Edward Albee and Harold Pinter are on display in Pacific Resident Theatre’s Albee/Pinter. Two short plays, Albee’s “Fam and Yam” and Pinter’s “The Dumb Waiter,” provide a peek into the early careers of each esteemed playwright; PRT’s clever staging fully invokes the early ’60s era.
“Fam and Yam” dates to 1960, right between Albee’s first produced play, the one-act Zoo Story, and 1962’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, his first full-length play. PRT’s Artistic Director Marilyn Fox directs this archly amusing piece, filled with inside jokes about the theater world of the era.
Miller, Williams, Wilder and Inge make up the pantheon in which the obsequious Yam (Jason Downs) places playwright Fam (Brad Greenquist). Fam feigns humility, but laps up the younger man’s accolades—and his biting take on the sad state of theater. Yam lists those “culpable,” including actors, producers, directors, theater owners and, of course, critics. “Fam and Yam” is a fully formed and entertaining whole, with an exclamation point of an ending.
By contrast, Pinter’s “The Dumb Waiter,” also from 1960, starts without a clear purpose and meanders through a confusing set of developments that do little to unmuddy the waters. An older hitman, Ben (Anthony Foux) and a younger, Gus (Jason Downs), are in a seedy, windowless room, awaiting orders. They spar and complain, setting up Ben as the senior player, annoyed by his sidekick’s thickness. They react to urges, noises and the unlikely appearance of a dumbwaiter containing food orders in the wall between their two twin beds.
Finally, Gus, tired of waiting for orders of the non-food kind, says, “It’s past a joke, in my opinion.” Those without an affinity for Absurdist theater might agree. That school of playwriting expresses the view that human existence is without purpose or meaning, and “The Dumb Waiter” embraces the form. Each new development deepens the confusion rather than offering a path to illumination, until the end, when a purpose is revealed: another exclamation point. Marilyn Fox and Elina de Santos direct this challenging piece.
As the fawning-but-devious Yam and the henpecked dullard Gus, Jason Downs embraces his two roles in Albee/Pinter. Greenquist is appropriately haughty and, as Fam, revels in the adulation that inevitably foreshadows a fall from grace. Foux is perfect as a long-time criminal, menacing and disdainful. Both pieces feature older man/younger man relationships, one in which the younger man comes out on top, the other most decidedly not.
Between the two pieces is a highly entertaining set change, with music reminiscent of “Big Spender.” The interlude features go-go dancer Jennifer Knox, who combines slinky dance moves with humor and function; she works with the actors to remake the set from elegant penthouse to drab boardinghouse. Myrna Gawryn is credited with the engaging choreography, William Wilday with the excellent scenic design.
Albee/Pinter is now playing at Pacific Resident Theatre, 705½ Venice Blvd. in Venice. Showtimes are 8:00pm Thursdays through Saturdays, 3:00pm Sundays through Dec. 18 (extended). Tickets are $35-45 and can be purchased here. A post-show talkback on Sunday, Oct. 30, award-winning poet, editor and professor Francine Leffler Ringold; Ph.D will be moderated by Artistic Director Marilyn Fox. There is decent street parking as well as a small lot behind the theater.
About Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Neo Ensemble Theatre in Hollywood.
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