A young master of finance brought so low by economic reversals that he becomes a kitchen slave.
Panych directed his own play when it debuted at the Arts Club Theater in Vancouver, in 2005, well in advance of the global financial meltdown. Helming for the Chester (Mass.) company, a.d. Byam Stevens finds the current financial climate ideal for the play’s humor, which is thick with irony about the disconnect between society’s privileged classes and the forgotten wretches whose labors keep them in clover.
“We’re the people they don’t ever want to know about,” says Dressler, the authoritative chief dishwasher at an upscale eatery. In a deliciously droll perf from Tim Donoghue, Dressler is an honest, if comically enhanced, version of the working-man philosopher who knows more about his boss and his boss’ business than the man in question.
Being a savvy judge of character, Dressler knows something’s off when a young, fit fellow named Emmett (Jay Stratton) presents himself for training as a dishwasher. Stratton makes a likable character of Emmett, even as he comes clean about the guy’s flaws as a financier, a lover and a mensch.
The third member of this scullery team is Moss (John Shuman), a nasty-tempered, chain-smoking consumptive who looks to be on his last legs. Physically and vocally, Shuman makes a meal of this odd man out.
The education (and gradual enlightenment) of the initially snooty Emmett provides the play with its purpose. But with the gruffly endearing Dressler in charge of the lesson plan, both Emmett, and the Emmetts among us, learn more about the life of a dishwasher than how to remove tomato coulis and bechamel from fine china. And while he and Dressler never have a really disastrous argument, they disagree on unionizing the kitchen, firing slackers, petitioning management for paper towels and other labor issues both silly and serious.
There’s no question that the timely crash of the global economy has made “The Dishwashers” more pertinent. But this painfully enjoyable show also alerts us to the fact that we may be ready for a renaissance of absurdist comedy, a form that was made for these times.