With its third production, Firebox Theatre Company returns to an evening of one act plays with Poof! by Lynn Nottage and The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter. Both mix dark humor with absurdity, leaving an audience to ponder and reflect upon these experiences. And both are also vehicles to showcase some of the finest performances in the area.
Poof! opens with an argument, a flash of light, and a pile of ash on the floor. When Loureen (Lauren Ragsdale) picks up the pair of glasses, she realizes she’s made her husband disappear. Having kept her afraid and silent, naturally, he explodes, literally, when she finally speaks up. It is a twist on what usually happens in these situations. She calls her neighbor and friend, Florence (J. Ra’Chel Fowler), to help her sort out what has happened. In a brief 20 minutes, these women create an intimate portrait of life with an abusive spouse.
Ragsdale and Fowler offer stellar performances, realistically portraying a friendship borne of similar circumstances that underscores the tone of the piece at its darkest points. The banter between the two is light-hearted but it reveals the battered lives they both live and how they respond to it. Both are trapped by circumstances that seem to need a bit of witchcraft to remedy. The point of the piece is to highlight how Loureen and Florence survive as well as how difficult it is to escape.
In The Dumb Waiter, two men are waiting in a basement in Birmingham, England, for instructions to complete a job. Ben (Michael Foley) sits on one of the twin beds reading a newspaper. Gus (Tim Artz) is restless, tying and retying his shoe like a child first learning how to make loops. He paces, asks questions, commenting on the crockery and past football (soccer) matches. Ben guffaws at incidents he reads about, seeming to only half-listen to the rambling by Gus.
But a crisis is brewing, and tension begins to mount as the men argue over the use of a phrase, and Ben becomes more annoyed by the pestering inquiries of Gus. Then food orders begin appearing in the dumb waiter, pushing Gus and the audience to ask, “What’s going on here?”
Pinter’s 1960 play feels like a lesson in improv: the idea that whatever one performer does, the reaction is to follow along as if it is entirely plausible no matter what. A response of “yes, and . . .” Much of what happens over the course of 50 minutes moves along as though anything that happens is a normal occurrence – including the mysterious appearance of requests for pub fare, Greek cuisine and Chinese food.
Yet, everything is odd, with both men showing cracks in their consciences. And that’s probably where the performances of both actors really shine. Foley and Artz are marvelous to watch as they scrape against each other, wearing down their veneers as they tumble toward a conclusion. And while it may not be satisfactory, this is Pinter after all, it certainly leaves the audience gasping.
Firebox Theatre Company has now moved into permanent residence on the upper floor of the Cotton Mill. The caliber of their productions makes them a most welcome addition to the local theatre community.
The Firebox Theatre productions of Poof and The Dumbwaiter runs through June 25. For more information visit https://www.fireboxtheatre.com/.