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A CurtainUp Review
The Dishwashers

I was nothing but a prisoner before I came here.—Dressler
In what sense? —Emmet
Federal. — Dressler:
The Dishwashers
Jared Michael Delany & Bill Van Horn
(Photo: Walnut Street Theater)
Two plays set in subterranean workplaces in less than a month. In Morris Panych's The Dishwashers, which is upstairs at the Walnut Street Theatre, events transpire in the basement dishwashing operation below an expensive restaurant. Not four blocks away at the Arden this month Caroline or Change featured a steamy basement laundry room.

Robert Kramer must have had fun assembling this set, the most realistically outfitted analogy I've seen. It's dominated by a large, commercial metal sink complete with hanging spray hookup and surrounded by dish racks, dishes, an industrial dishwashing machine ["clipper," short for China Clipper], dumbwaiter, metal shelving, lockers, florescent lights, dirty old white tile, and mementos of long gone parties. Very atmospheric, it may not sound like magic, but it is.

A new guy, Emmet (Jared Michael Delany), has arrived. Fallen on hard times and reduced to taking work as a dishwasher, he fears his wealthy fiancée will not approve his occupation. He makes reference to his well-heeled past and insists on a distinction: He washes dishes, he is not a dishwasher.

There's Moss (Lee Golden), a very sick old dishwasher from the "dawn of dishwashing," who appears to want to die with his apron on. Moss gets satisfaction from perseverance for its own sake, "held up my end." He has stifled further aspirations, and says, "We are working our way up, except for the up part."

The leader of the dish brigade, Dressler (Bill Van Horn), is gruff and tyrannical within the small sphere where he holds power. "We let one dirty dish get through, we all go down." He sees dignity in work, no matter how menial it is perceived to be, and he takes pride in a job well done, even if it's not noticed by the patrons above. Feeling fortunate to be a part of something elegant, and waxing eloquent, he praises the shining dishes and silverware, and he describes the glassware as "translucent chalices." He asks rhetorically, with his rough philosophical bent, "Why do people press on at all?" He notes that an employee once hid from the truth down there, and he asserts that the work they do below the surface has wider implications.

A latecomer, Evan Jonigkeit, does good youth attitude and Golden is absolutely wonderful as Moss. Delaney's Emmet is pivotal and he's allowed to own the ironic edge, but the story is Dressler's. Van Horn's character affects the others and is defined by what the others are not.

Though Morris Panych is a prolific Canadian playwright, this is the first of his plays that I've seen. Literate and funny as hell, The Dishwasher sparkles and resonates with larger intimations. Panych seems to allude to Beckett. There's a touch of Endgame in the repetitiveness and the underground location, and when Dressler and Emmet eat a carrot, it could be a culinary trace of Vladimir and Estragon. The play is packed with great one-liners that could stand alone, but they don't have to. Dialogue lines tie into each other and build, hooking into all kinds of things, keeping the audience off balance.

One could argue that the playwright needs to make up his mind. Is this retro absurdist, or is it some kind of Tarantino comic realism without the violence? I don't really care. However you define things, Panych works the question, "What is meaningful?" in a truly entertaining way.

Dressler laments that in life, big dreams become "little wishes," and there are nods of recognition in the audience. Van Horn's direction is actor-friendly, the actors are skilled, and the production benefits from the intimacy of the performance space. We laugh loud and often as the ridiculously funny surface sinks like liquid soap in dish water, penetrating the work, insinuating itself into the large, unanswerable questions.

The Dishwashers
by Morris Panych
Directed by Bill Van Horn

Cast: Bill Van Horn, Jared Michael Delaney, Lee Golden, Evan Jonigkeit
Scenic Design: Robert Kramer
Lighting Design: Shelley Hickman
Costume Design: Mary Folino
Sound Design: Christopher Colucci (Interesting music choices between scenes!) Running time: Approx 2 hours with one 15 min intermission 04/17/07- 05/06/07; opening 4/19
Reviewed by Kathryn Osenlund based on 04/19 performance atWalnut Street Theatre's Independence Studio on 3
Running Time:

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