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'Old Times' - Pinter With Pizzazz

Kelly Reilly, Eve Best, and Clive Owen in Old Times
(©Joan Marcus)

The music, courtesy of Thom Yorke of Radiohead, that pulses through the American Airlines Theatre as audiences arrive for Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of Old Times gives a clear signal that this new staging of the Harold Pinter classic from 1971, by Douglas Hodge, will be anything but staid. As the show begins in earnest, designer Japhy Weideman focuses strobe lights at theatergoers that flash insistently, and Christine Jones’ set is a model of abstraction with its chief features being a backdrop of a vortex of circles seemingly spiraling toward nothingness, piles of black stones that arc around the playing area, and what appears to be a gigantic block of ice center stage.

It’s a weirdly post-apocalyptic, yet period (indicated by Constance Hoffman’s chic costumes), vision for this play about a married couple entertaining one of the wife’s old friends for an evening. On some levels the concept---and the high-energy, fast-paced performances that it demands---serves the play, but only in a limited way.

Old Times is, after all, an opaque portrait of a power struggle between the three, as husband, Deeley (Clive Owen), and guest, Anna (Eve Best), attempt to outdo one another about their closeness to wife Kate (Kelly Reilly). As it unfolds, the trio’s clipped and conflicting memories about the times that they have shared with Kate could be considered distorted snapshots (hence the strobe light) that have been refracted through time and self-deception (thus the surreal visuals of Jones’ scenic design).

In this sort of world, the actors deliver with intensity and speed almost as if their lives depended on it, and for theatergoers who might not gravitate toward a more emotionally understated and leisurely interpretation of the play, this is also a good thing. The performance style also indicates that Old Times might be taking place in some sort of collective hell for the three.

The tradeoff that comes because of these choices, however, means that this Old Times has a certain superficiality to it, and that the menace that Deeley and Anna (and to a lesser extent Kate) pose to one another over their respective claims on Kate’s life becomes muted.

Nowhere can this be more palpably felt than when Anna reveals that she and Deeley might have met before he first encountered Kate. The specifics of the meeting and her cutting use of them to rile both husband and wife are, at least by early 1970s standards, kind of shocking and a little twisted. Unfortunately, even as Best delivers the tale with cool finesse and decided hauteur, there’s little sense of danger in what she’s revealing (or perhaps fabricating).

The same can be said of Owen’s preening and decidedly cocky Deeley. He may overtly ogle Anna early on, making sure that Kate sees that he’s interested in this other woman, but rarely does it seem like he and Anna have entered either into an amorous ritual of their own or into a battle of wills to see who might ultimately possess her. There’s little doubt that the man could dominate either sexually, but what one misses is the way in which he could potentially take control because of his intellect and erudition.

As Kate, Reilly delivers a performance that has an interesting blend of sweetness and reserve, which makes her appeal to Deeley and Anna understandable on one level. Reilly, however, never makes Kate seem to be a match for these two. Thus, it’s difficult to not wonder why they are competing for her attention and affection, and while this excursion to Old Times never bores---and in fact can be quite entertaining and is viscerally stimulating---it never delivers an emotional punch.

---- Andy Propst

Old Times plays at the American Airlines Theatre (227 West 42nd Street). For more information and tickets, visit: roundabouttheatre.org.