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A CurtainUp Review
The 1984 revival starred Marsha Mason, Anthony Hopkins and Jane Alexander. This one heralds the Broadway debuts of film and stage actor Clive Owen and of Kelly Reilly and also boasts the return of Tony-nominated Eve Best. All appear to have their work cut out competing with this production's overwhelming aural and visual effects.
Once the audience gets used to the pre-curtain bombardment of eerie, pulsating sound/music contributions of Clive Goodwin and Thom Yorke, the curtain rises on a set that is as surreal as it is suspiciously in an abstracted location Amid the flashing of blinding strobe lights, a huge backdrop of concentric circles appears that will blink periodically on a loop. Impressive, as far as it goes...and it does go on. Then there is the spacious very open interior part of the setting designed by Christine Jones in which an opaque monolithic figure resembling a large vertical ice cube stands as its center piece— make that a portal —in an otherwise smartly/minimally furnished living room.
It's good to report, however, that all that high-tech framing doesn't reduce the glow from the actors. Neither does it significantly diminish the suspense in a play that has intrigued audiences since it first opened on Broadway in 1971.
So, here we are back again trying to decipher the clues in this sexually charged drama about questionable reminiscences and possible betrayals. The current cast has no difficulty adding its own burnished luster to the play's many golden moments, including those we have come to recognize, indeed, acknowledge, as Pinter's renowned use of silences.
The intensity factor, under the direction of Douglas Hodge, is as it should be. And a good-looking cast is always a treat. Owen and Reilly play Deeley and Kate, the married couple who are visited by Kate's old friend and former roommate Anna, played by Best.
Twenty years have passed since Kate and Anna have seen each other. During her visit Anna, now, married to a wealthy Sicilian, sheds both lights and shadows on her hosts' past that may have included alternately Deeley and Kate in some delicate liaisons. Removing the intermission that had previously split the rather short play(sixty-five minutes) is a really good idea as it allows us to focus intently on a play that touches more levels of truth about relationships than do many more verbose and extenuated dramas.
The famous pauses reverberate, like thunder. To acknowledge Pinter as one of the great playwrights of our time would be as redundant as extolling Shaw. The wit, the words and the deceptively circuitous action are all there for this cast to make the most of. We can certainly credit Hodge for keeping the deliberately paced action as well as the meticulously crafted voids between the lines acute and suspenseful.
Basically, there is little room to mess around with a Pinter play and Hodge, who is acknowledged as a premiere Pinter interpreter, brings to Old Times the precision and the pace it requires. I don't recall a previous version in which so much sexual tension was created solely by the body language of all three characters. That tension happily also provides room for a few hearty laughs.
Best, who stunned Broadway audiences with an earthy sensuality in her two Tony nominated performances in The Homecoming and A Moon for the Misbegotten, is riveting as the icily incriminating Anna. More funnily provocative is Reilly as Kate, the deceptively composed wife. Both women look glamorously chic in the wardrobe designed for them by Constance Hoffman.
Owen, whose film roles include the cult favorite Croupier, stakes his claim on the charm factor of the film director who has, despite his manipulations, no clue to the direction that this unexpected confrontation with his past is taking him. As he recalls with increasing candor and ferocity his link with his mysterious house guest, the humorously virile and natural Owen is seen as full of the devil.
Today Old Times can easily be referred to as an old friend, no matter how suggestively sinister it remains and no matter the packaging. And like the best of friends it doesn't overstay its welcome.
Editor's Note: For more about Harold Pinter and links to his plays reviewed at Curtainup, see the Harold Pinter backgrounder in our Playwrights Album