Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 1, 2008

The Dishwashers

Chester Theatre, Chester MA
through August 10, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

At various stages of physical growth, it is not uncommon for inquiring minds to ponder what life is all about, and specifically, does one have a choice between accepting or changing one’s lot? Honored Canadian playwright Morris Panych stages such a debate in the windowless basement of an upscale restaurant where rote activity prevails – dishwashing – both location and labor contrived to dull the mind.

Charles Corcoran’s set design drips with authenticity: an industrial-size sink, shelves filled with dishes and cooking utensils, boxes of supplies stacked to the ceiling, and a dumbwaiter that lowers the dirty dishes and raises the cleaned, gleaming plates – a metaphor for the existential parrying of thoughts and beliefs.

The opening dialog of the first act is reminiscent of Waiting for Godot with a dash of No Exit and a dollop of The Zoo Story. Eventually, a story line gels. Dressler (Tim Donoghue), long-time employee, the self-appointed captain of the dishwashing team, believes in trust, patience, and that there is honor in blooming where one is planted. Whereas the new guy, Emmett (Jay Stratton), introduces the disruptive idea of challenging the status quo: to organize, form a union. The third dishwasher Moss (John Shuman) is riddled with cancer, and is too ill to deduce that Emmett was hired as his replacement.

The introduction to the second act shows the dishwashing team operating at full throttle. As the arrival of dirty dishes’ containers gain speed, the pace increases for transforming them into clean plates. The result is Chaplinesque slapstick that entertains and informs.

The comedy is far removed from television sit-coms, although an exchange between Dressler and Emmett prompted the audience’s heartiest laugh: "I was nothing but a prisoner before I came here." Response: "In what sense?" Followed by: "Federal."

The Dishwashers is light fare if one doesn’t try to dissect the dialog but more interesting if one does. Due in part to the "aha!" moment created by the introduction to the second act, the play develops a clarity that elevates its entertainment value without sacrificing its messages. This play may not attract an enthusiastic following but all components of the production – especially the acting and Byam Stevens’ directing – are first-rate, thus contributing to the ongoing admiration of Chester Theatre Company.