We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.

Five years after its first wobbly steps—a college production of Peter Shaffer’s boy-meets-horse/boy-blinds-horse story Equus—director John Castro’s baby, Sedentary Productions, is staging Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter at the newly opened Metro Cafe. Despite the company’s name, Sedentary’s first three years were nomadic ones, spent pingponging from Annapolis to Richmond to D.C., where it premiered with a lesser-known play, Richard Greenberg’s The American Plan.

Though the show lost money and didn’t satisfy artistically—a confusing script suffered from what Castro admits was confused direction—some good did come of it. The failed production forced Castro to reconsider not only the type of show he wanted to do but also the kind of audience he felt Sedentary should be targeting. “I knew a lot of people going to the Black Cat [and] a lot of the clubs of 14th and U Streets, and what occurred to me was that these were mainly people my age who would go out and pay to see a band or whatever, but never a play because it was prohibitively expensive or they’d written it off because they assumed it wasn’t their scene,” he says.

“So we decided that the next show…we were gonna do down and dirty in a bar, the back room of the State of the Union, and we were only gonna do three performances, and we were gonna market it like—and hopefully actually create the aesthetic of—a rock show and see how it all came off,” he continues. “And it happened, and it really took off.”

That two-character play, Danny and the Deep Blue Sea by John Patrick Shanley, set the tone for all Sedentary productions since. “It made us go after those nasty, little, very concentrated pieces of storytelling that reward you when you serve the story rather than try to talk about yourself,” Castro says. Consequently, Sedentary has focused on plays by David Mamet (last summer’s run of Oleanna sold out) and Pinter (“big on character, small on ornament”), dark nuggets with small casts that can be staged almost anywhere on minuscule budgets, shows that would benefit from Castro’s collaborative—almost meatball-surgery—approach to directing.

Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter, about two absurdly unlucky hit men, continues the riff. “It’s a very thorny show, which is what we enjoy, and even though you can make all these assumptions about what’s going on offstage (because a good deal of the action is precipitated by these mysterious happenings we never see), in the end I decided what’s really important is the story we do have, Pinter’s words,” the director says. “And that’s the philosophy we take into it. And that accounts for how we stage it. You get what you need, you put it up there, and that’s it.”—Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

The Dumb Waiter runs at the Metro Cafe (formerly Dante’s) Nov. 12-15 and Nov. 20-22 at 7:00 p.m. For tickets, call (202) 332-2236.