Old Times - Elizabeth Ahlfors
Roundabout Theatre Company - American Airlines Theater
227 -West 42nd Street
October 6, 2015 through November 29, 2015
When the committee for Nobel Prize for Literature awarded Harold Pinter the prize, they pointed out that he "uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms." If you are looking for a play with a beginning, middle and end? Harold Pinter's Old Times is not for you.
The Roundabout production is directed by Douglas Hodge who has a history of acting and directing Pinter's works. Kate (Kelly Reilly) and her husband Deeley, played by Clive Owen, are both making Broadway debuts in this play. They live in an isolated seaside house somewhere outside London. After many years, they've invited Kate's old friend, Anna (Eve Best), over to meet Deeley for the first time. Kate has prepared a casserole for the autumn evening and Deeley is curious about Kate's old friend, evidently her only friend, but when he asks Kate about the days when she and Anna were roommates, she is evasive. Kate is curiously ambivalent about Anna's visit.
With these charismatic actors, the three characters are well differentiated, with tight, pointed dialogue that is punctuated by long pauses and meaningful looks and abundant cigarette smoke. Perceptions shift while Christine Jones' turntable set barely perceptively rotates against the backdrop resembling a whirlpool of ripples. (''Ripples on the surface indicate a shimmering in depth down through every particle of water down to the river bed,'' Anna comments.)
Previously seen in Pinter's The Homecoming, Anna, dressed in a silky white pants suit by Constance Hoffman, arrives with panache, loquacious with tales about the old days, stories Deeley has never heard. She is an image of domineering glamour. Owen (in London, Design for Living) brings a smirking, flagrant sexiness to his role as Deeley and when he tells some tales of his own, a caustic atmosphere develops, with Kate in a largely observational role.
In an enigmatic battle for control over Kate, Anna and Deeley try to outdo each other with barbed lines from old songs. Anna: " Oh, but you’re lovely, with your smile so warm…" Deeley follows with, " I’ve got a woman crazy for me. She’s funny that way." Kelly Reilly (TV's True Detective), the object of desire in the songs, is aloof, communicating with physical gestures and shifts until a moment of independence when she leaves the room to take a bath, alone with. no help needed.
Tension builds with Pinter's long pauses and meaningful stares. Why? Are Kate and Anna really the same woman? Is this a dream? A memory? Were the two women lovers? Was Deeley involved with one of them, or perhaps both? Is Anna dead? Maybe. Could be. "There are some things one remembers even though they may never have happened," Anna says.
At the American Airlines Theatre, Christine Jones' set is minimalistic with a chaise and two wide lounge chairs. A slab, looking like a block of ice, functions as a door, mirror, bath. Hodge brings out the essence of the characters and makes use of the occasional humor. Adding to the abstract, uneasy feel of the evening is macabre original music by Radiohead's Thom Yorke and Clive Goodwin's repetitive sound effects with the sound of tides ebbing and flowing. Japhy Weideman adds jolting blinding flashes of light. The play runs for 70 minutes and the original Broadway staging was in 1971 with Robert Shaw, Rosemary Harris and Mary Ure.
A taste of this exotic casserole, spiced by Douglas Hodge's intriguing jolts of energy, may persuade you that perhaps Pinter's Old Times is for you. Or not. At least it's food for thought.
This review also appears in TotalTheater.com