As dramatic set-ups go, wandering through deserted warehouses on a rainy night and up a dripping fire escape to find the Downstream Garage theatre is pretty good. Before the actors are even on stage in the black box space, suspense is cranked up and the audience is ready for some intense theatre. And that’s exactly what you get from East West Theatre’s double bill of The Zoo Story by Edward Albee and The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter.
Both plays are two-handers. In the first performance Paul Collins plays Peter, a married father of two reading a book on a sunny afternoon in Central Park who’s interrupted by cheerful loner Jerry, played by Jason Lasky. Lasky shines in this performance. His goofy smile and lop-sided hoody suggests a good nature but this is undermined as hints of a wildness emerge as the drama progresses. Jerry is a powerful storyteller with vivid characterisation of his gin-sodden landlady and his nemesis, her dog. Collins’ character is mostly the straight guy to Lasky’s uninhibited tales, but his stiff, restrained Paul is believable and in the end sympathies are balanced evenly between the two equally tragic characters. Or perhaps Albee is telling us that it is the entire human experience that is tragic.
Light relief comes after the interval. Lasky and Collins return as Ben and Gus, two hitmen in a basement waiting for their latest job who are thrown into confusion by the sudden arrival of kitchen order notes – ‘soup of the day’ and ‘scampi’ – into their top secret hideout. Pinter’s play is amusing but less powerful in this double bill. Collins’ cockney accent strays into camp Dick van Dyke territory and even though the hitmen are in Birmingham, Lasky sticks to his native American accent, which works until he comes to words like ‘berk’ and‘mate’ or phrases such as ‘buck your ideas up’.
Accent quibbles aside, East West have put together a poignant, shocking, amusing and ultimately entertaining night at the theatre which we recommend you check out, especially as you can see it for however much you think it deserves – tickets are by donation only.
The Zoo Story and The Dumb Waiter is at Downstream Garage from Thursday 13 to Sunday 16, with a matinee performance on Saturday 15. See our full event listing here.