Since a play is meant to be experienced visually, directors, set designers, and actors have a lot of control over the audience's sensory experience of the work. However, when the characters in the play recall moments outside of the scope of the play, such as things that happened offstage or before the play began, the playwright, like the author of a novel, must use words to create the imagery of those scenes. An example of this kind of imagery is when Gus remembers Ben stopping the car in the morning. He describes the event from his point of view, including sensory details that create a dark, mysterious tone: "It was all misty" and "You were sitting up dead straight, like you were waiting for something" (91). The audience's perception of this event is colored by Gus's memory and description, and, because of his sinister word choice, the moment showcases Gus's feelings of unease and confusion.
Another moment that occurred before the beginning of the play is Gus and Ben killing a woman. Gus was obviously very strongly emotionally impacted, and he describes the scene in vivid and gruesome detail for the audience. He says to Ben, "She wasn't much to look at, I know, but still. It was a mess though, wasn't it? What a mess. Honest, I can't remember a mess like that one. They don't seem to hold together like men, women. A looser texture, like. Didn't she spread, eh? She didn't half spread. Kaw!" (102-3.) Gus's repetition of the words "mess" and "spread" show his fixation on the consequence of their actions rather than the moment of killing her or the events leading up to her death. These repeated words also draw the focus away from the woman's physical form to the blood and perhaps other inner matter that left her body, objectifying and defamiliarizing the harm done to her.
In the scene where Ben makes Gus repeat their instructions, their language creates an image not of a past moment but of a future one. As the men recite their plan verbally, the audience creates a vivid idea of what the climax of the play will look like. An unknown character, likely male, will arrive, the men will position themselves at his front and back with their guns drawn, and then they will kill him (likely creating a mess, as the men have discussed at other points in the play). This moment of imagery builds the suspense from the middle of the play to the climax and increases the irony when Gus's arrival at the door subverts the audience's expectations.
Relationships through Stage Directions
While it is possible to read a play as a text, by nature plays are meant to be experienced visually. This means that a playwright must create a good deal of imagery through stage directions. A director of a particular production will then work with an actor to interpret the playwright's directions and add further nuance and complexity. Some of the most important stage directions in The Dumb Waiter have to do with Ben and Gus's physical relationship to one another. Pinter details moments when the men sit near one another, make eye contact across physical distance, and touch gently or violently. When actors carry out these stage directions, an audience will have to make inferences about Ben and Gus's relationship and their emotions toward one another.
The Dumb Waiter Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Dumb Waiter is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.