This week, Raleigh, NC-based Bare Theatre follows up its provocative youth-theater presentation of The Crucible by celebrated American playwright Arthur Miller with an entertaining production of The Dumb Waiter by equally celebrated British dramatist and 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature winner Harold Pinter. First produced in 1957, The Dumb Waiter is early Pinter; but already the master’s touch evident in this hour-long one-act tale of a tawdry team of British hitmen summoned to cool their heels in a shabby basement hotel room until their boss reveals the identity of their next target/victim to them.

The wordless opening sequence of The Dumb Waiter, which plays tonight through Sunday afternoon at the Common Ground Theatre in Durham, is vintage Pinter; he reveals the essence of each character in the way each killer acts before a word is spoken. Nervous, goggle-eyed Gus (Jesse R. Gephart), the younger and more excitable of the two, fidgets and frets while the team’s stolid beady-eyed senior partner, Ben (Bare Theatre artistic director Carmen-maria Mandley), sprawls on his back across one of the room’s two single beds and quietly reads the newspaper. While Gus feverishly searches his shoes for foreign objects—and finds what looks like a flattened matchbox and an equally empty package of cigarettes—the phlegmatic Ben lolls, apparently completely engrossed in the news of the day.

From time to time, Ben reads some macabre news local item out loud, or orders Gus to perform some menial task that Gus never quite accomplishes. Thanks to the smart staging of guest director Christopher Beaulieu, much of this much ado about nothing is very funny, in the same way that the ultimately futile speculations and pointless actions and inactions of the tramps in Irish expatriate playwright Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot are amusing.

Carmen-maria Mandley and Jesse Gephart keep their characters interesting as they bicker over trifles, especially the sparse morsels of food and the contents of the surreptitious notes delivered to the basement room by the titular dumbwaiter. (“Dumb waiter” might also characterize Gus, who is thick as the proverbial brick and has a whole colony of ants in his pants.) Taking the least flamboyant role for herself, Mandley makes a perfect straight man for Gephart, who exploits Gus’ manifold tics and twitches to the fullest—much to the delight of the audience.

The Dumb Waiter is the second half of an amusing twin bill. BLuNDeR CoNsTrUcTiON, a sublimely silly bit of slapshtick performed with great gusto by guest artist Brent Eden McCoy of Burlington, VT, combines clowning, juggling, and balancing tricks in a single crowd-pleasing performance. McCoy saunters on stage dressed as a highway construction worker, wearing an orange hard hat and a big red nose and carrying a toolbox and a set of those internal orange cones that transform virtually every trip along Interstate 40 into a driver’s nightmare. Then McCoy proceeds to clown, juggle, and balance his way into the audience’s heart. He is a sly dog, and he amazes and delights the viewers with the new tricks that he concocts.

McCoy juggles traffic cones, uses a spool of yellow Caution tape and a retractable metal tape measure as props for two of his comic routines, spins up to three oversized yoyo-like objects at a time on the same string, and perform assorted other tricks while balancing on a large ball that he wiggles across the stage.

Bare Theatre presents The Dumb Waiter Friday, Sept. 22, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Sept. 23, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Sept. 24, at 2 p.m. at Common Ground Theatre, 4815B Hillsborough Rd., Durham, North Carolina. $15 ($7 students, seniors, and military personnel). 919/771-3281 or Bare Theatre: Common Ground Theatre: Christopher Beaulieu: [inactive 1/07]. Brent Eden McCoy: