Harold Pinter’s Old Times is so thick with innuendo, allusion, and metaphor that you wonder how the married couple at the center of the story get through day-to-day life. When she mentions that her dress is dirty, he must think she’s opening up about childhood abuse; and when he asks whether the mail’s come, she must assume he’s sleeping with the postman.
In the 1971 play, 40-ish couple Kate (Blake Bolan) and Deeley (Joey Metzger) open their country cottage to Anna (Sheila Regan—a friend of mine and a Daily Planet contributor), who lived with Kate back in their young, single days. The friends haven’t seen each other in two decades, and the catching-up is more than just a little awkward: Blake shuts up, Deeley fumes, and Anna’s left to do most of the reminiscing herself. By the end of the evening, it’s revealed that Deeley knew Anna before he met Kate, and that the relationship between Kate and Anna is…complex.
This is challenging material to stage. You can’t just take a naturalistic approach, because the characters are so affected; but a too highly affected approach risks falling into self-parody. The women have it relatively easier; Regan can just play coy, and Bolan can remain largely opaque. Metzger has to cycle rapidly through charm, lust, jealousy, shock, and other modes, but under Maggie Scanlan’s direction, his dominant mode is an angry, bitter condescension. He’s extremely unsympathetic, and when he’s revealed to be a big softie, the transformation is less than convincing. The British accents also prove challenging for the cast, and I wished they could be swept out of the way.
Katie Phillips’s set design makes effective use of the Loring Alley Theater’s white-brick-box space, which in its stark isolation proves an apt stand-in for a lonely country home. The seating is so close to the actors that the audience might well be in that claustrophobic living room, which works in the favor of this imperfect but unblinking production of Pinter’s bleak classic.
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