Berkoff’s one-act plays, The Potsdam Quartet, The Dumb Waiter

Written by Cindy Lawford on . Posted in Blog, Theatre

I have too many plays on the brain and can hardly focus at present — which really should be, if this blog calms me down, the most delightful situation in the world, and in truth it is.   Berkoff 0ne-act plays at Jermyn Street Theatre, Religion and Anarchy, have been really amazing.  I run more Q&A’s next week, give some pre-show lectures, and it’s so much fun to take audiences back to Berkoff’s Jewish East End, and get them salivating over pickled cucumbers and salmon and cream cheese and chicken soup.  I love to talk about Berkoff’s affection for his mother, how he would visit her every Sundy and be pampered, no, be treated like a little God.  It gets me wondering if I could ever treat my teenage daughters that way and deciding yet again, NO … but there’s a part of me that wishes I could, sort of.   Anyway, the audiences need all that food comfort to cope with the second half of the performances, when we are facing the death of the Nazi concentration camps with the actors who remind us with every line and gesture that there is no way out, nowhere to go. 

Other plays on the brain?  Well, the cast for David Pinner’s The Potsdam Quartet (which is next on at Jermyn Street Theatre) has just completed their first week of rehearsals.  I was able to sit through their first group reading, and I was amazed at the cleverness of the writing and the power of the final moments, when the observations seem to scream for someone to ask, Why? and yet no one does and no one answers the hanging questions.  There is just no ability to answer them.  That is obvious with the characters, and I’m left wondering how many of us can’t answer for the really awful things we do or don’t do, and wondering if not answering for them is worse than the misdeeds themselves.  It’s simply a brilliant play, and that it’s set during the Potsdam Conference, when Stalin was cleaning up and there was so much helplessness around the conference table — well, it makes such beautiful sense.  That the four main characters are part of famous musical quartet, based on the Griller Quartet that performed at the Potsdam Conference, then leads me into wondering all about that other communication.  Can musical communication, can what musicians say to each other while playing, make up for all the rest that they verbally say?  It’s a fabulous question that can lead down so many paths.

The Dumb Waiter at The Print Room

DUMB WAITER
Clive Wood as Ben and
Joe Armstrong as Gus
© Nobby Clark

But for now, I can only pause and say I must get my brain this morning around Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter, opening at The Print Room in late October at the same time as Potsdam.  It’s set in Birmingham, but does it matter?  There are two beds, two doors, two men.  They are stuck in a windowless room, and when they aren’t stuck in windowless rooms, they kill people.  And the audience tends to like one a lot more than the other, but they both, I think, can be liked.  I certainly can like them, and I find it very difficult to keep remembering that they are hired killers.  I’m more interested in the kettle, the toilet, and yes, the dumb waiter.   One of them, the guy we like, Gus, feels very stuck in that room and the other, Ben, is a lot more patient, and, in a weird way, his patience and acceptance — normally the most redeeming of qualities — signal his moral corruption.  I like that.  I hate to think the whole play can be reduced to power games, and I wonder, if the toilet had worked better and if they could actually have had a cup of tea, then it all might have turned out so differently.  But then we’re not really sure how it turns out. 

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