New York City Theater
American Airlines Theater
Sex and memory, contradicting, counteracting each other. What do we remember and why? In Harold Pinter‘s enigmatic, mysterious, maddening “Old Times,” now in a compelling Roundabout Theater revival, three people re-live the same past differently, trapped in a situation very like Sartre’s “No Exit,” where hell – a literal Hell -- is other people.
In semi-darkness, two women recline on separate divans while one man sits center in an armchair. Upstage is a large translucent block that may be a door or a window but surely is as cold as ice, mirroring the cold, calculating characters who inhabit this room. The background is a swirling vortex, ready to swallow them.
At the start, the man, Deeley by name, rises, goes to one woman, then the other, repeating an earlier pattern we later learn about. We soon find out one woman is his wife, Kate, pouty, pretty, feminine. The other is Anna, regal, handsome, sturdy. Both are dangerous. Then the games begin.
Anna, once Kate’s roommate and probable lover, has come to visit in this remote house, unaccompanied by her husband (if, indeed, she has a husband). They talk of times past. Deeley claims he never met Anna, but what about the time he looked up her skirt at a party, spying her underwear which was really Kate’s underwear that Anna had either stolen or been given?
What about the movie, the significantly titled “Odd Man Out,” that figures in everyone’s past? Other cultural touchstones show up: snatches of old songs that taunt, like “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “All the Things You Are.” Meanwhile they – and we – are tortured by Thom Yorke’s eerie music that succeeds in implying that none of this is real.
Eschewing the famous Pinter pauses, director Douglas Hodge has his actors barrel through the dialogue, stopping long enough to ponder what they’ve said. It’s a bit of an overwrought approach, emphasizing that what people do to one another is twist truth, one-up each other and blithely cause pain.
Clive Owen is the sensual Deeley, slyly eyeing the women but confounded by them, waiting to pounce but rejected. It finally becomes too much for him and Owen’s slumping, weeping Deeley is a thing of pity. It’s a fine arc from confidence to defeat. Eve Best is Anna, steely, menacing, an intruder who dominates, while Kelly Reilly is the seductive Kate, self-aware, keeping herself in check until near the end when she bursts with recriminations and intimations of death. It’s a splendid trio.
Pinter’s triangulations (“The Caretaker,” “Betrayal”) always menace. If his characters seem obscure, they are not purposeless. Power is what they seek, power that seeps into the subconscious. Take Pinter on faith, fall into his plays and never mind logic.
--David A. Rosenberg
Oct. 16, 2015