Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

The award winning Off Broadway West Theatre Company is currently staging a menacing pair of Pinter plays that will have you digging for valerian roots and foraging for Saint John’s Wort.

Durand Garcia directs THE DUMB WAITER, a disturbing piece that takes the audience on a sled ride from the existential peak of Beckett, down the slippery slope, to the unbridled and unhinged absurdity of Kafka.

This is a wonderful show for the cerebrotonics who would prefer to laugh at their own existence rather than someone else’s jokes.

Conor Hamill and Shane Fahy superbly play Gus and Ben: two hired guns who have cashed in their moral chips, and severed their ties with life, their sanity and their humanity.

Slipping into madness can be a gradual, unconscious process—a series of petty compromises—with transitions so subtle that they fail to set off the smoke alarm as they inexorably ratchet the despondent into deeper despair.

Gus and Ben should have known they had arrived at the wasteland when they began responding to the demands of a dumb waiter by offering up their stale biscuits and rancid milk; they prove that insanity does not have to be synonymous with loneliness if you can commit yourself to an ironclad folie au deux.

Durand Garcia captures the very essence of Pinter: he brings the audience face to face with Pinter’s swirling abyss of absurdity and gives them a convincing peek at anesthetized people staggering beneath the tedious burden of human consciousness.

THE DUMB WAITER is not light weight theatrical pabulum: if you cried yourself to sleep after BAMBI, you might want to come in after intermission and catch THE LOVER instead.

THE LOVER, as directed by Cecilia Palmtag, depicts a married couple’s creative struggle to keep eroticism alive in marriage.

As Oscar Wilde once observed, “The chains of matrimony are so heavy, it sometimes requires three to lift them.”

Sarah (played by Nicole Helfer) and Richard (played by Chad Stender) invent third parties to keep Hymen and Eros living under the same roof.

In Pinteresque form, John the milkman enters to tantalize the prurient minds of the audience, and to send them scampering down the alleyway to false hypothesis.

Miss Helfer delivers a very steamy performance as Sarah.

A palpable tension is sustained by the characters: each one demanding that the other play an active role in constructing a life worth living and a marriage tolerably worthy of preserving.

This is entertainment, art and life bundled into two well executed shows.

If you take your theater seriously, this is not to be missed: these plays pick up where Edward Albee, David Mamet, Gogol, Ionesco and your Psychotherapist left off.

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