The Dumb Waiter

The Dumb Waiter Summary

The Dumb Waiter is an absurd, tragicomic, one-act play by Harold Pinter. In the play, two hitmen named Gus and Ben wait for a target to show up. When the play begins, they have been waiting for most of the day in a basement room. The room is sparsely furnished with two beds and a few prop items. Attached to the room offstage are a bathroom and kitchenette that are heard and discussed.

Ben and Gus chat and bicker about news, sports, the snacks Gus has brought, and a few shared memories. At one point, an envelope with matches is slid under the door, but who put them there is unknown. Abruptly, about halfway through the play, the plot shifts as a dumb waiter at the back of the room begins to carry notes down to the room with requests for different foods, as if Gus and Ben were running a restaurant kitchen. Gus and Ben send up the food and drinks they have, only to receive more food requests. They notice that there is a speaking-tube and begin to use it to communicate to the customers above, who complain about the food they received.

Ben and Gus review their procedure for when the target shows up. They begin to argue, and Gus passionately questions Ben about why their boss, a man named Wilson, wants them to do this job. Gus goes into the kitchen for a drink of water and while he is gone, Ben gets the call saying the target will arrive soon. He calls to Gus, but when the door opens, it is Gus himself. The play ends with Ben facing his partner with a raised gun.