Corrections or additions?

This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the

March 28, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: Pinter’s `Old Times’

Ambiguous and "enigmatic" are words that are

virtually synonymous with the name of playwright Harold Pinter. If

anything can be said to have changed over the years, it may be our

perception of his plays. That they continue to enthrall and amaze

is one thing. But that they seem to become more accessible and


with time is a wonder, and this includes even the darkest of them

— "The Birthday Party," "The Homecoming." The

Pinter oeuvre, which reduces naturalistic speech into hypnotic


prose and twists ordinary plots into extraordinary psychological


hit its stride in 1971 with "Old Times." George Street


is now celebrating the 30th anniversary of "Old Times" with

a stunning new production, directed with subtlety by Ethan McSweeny.

It’s a staging that adds its own luster to the playwright’s



McSweeny, the new associate artistic director of GSP who guided Maria

Tucci through "Master Class" here last season, as well as

making his Broadway debut directing "Gore Vidal’s The Best


has emphasized the surrealism of the play if not always the suppressed

tensions of its characters. There may be more visible on the surface

that we usually get, but it is not a fatal flaw considering the


aspects of the performances that are ripe with insinuating sensuality.

And if anything new can be said about this play in which characters

only vaguely remember or don’t remember the past, and whose pasts

seem to shift depending on who is doing the remembering, it has


already been said. How’s that for ambiguity? What can be said about

this play that seems to be all about love, sex, and possession is

how effectively a well-guarded moment can erupt into an outburst.

It’s all quite riveting.

Not much really happens in the play, but it does progress and unravel

with suspense in the play’s two settings — the living room and

the bedroom of a converted farmhouse near the sea in England and in

the bedroom. Evocative for its late-modernism black and silver decor

(and featuring two black leather and steel daybeds designed in 1930

by Mies van der Rohe), Mark Wendland’s setting is also notable for

the mirrored panels that reflect both the action in the foreground

and offers a view of the mist and clouds that appear to sit upon


Dee Hoty and Sam Tsoutsouvas play Kate and Deeley, the married couple

who are visited by Kate’s old friend and former roommate, Anna, played

by Lisa Harrow. Twenty years have passed since Kate and Anna have

seen each other. Now married to a wealthy Sicilian, Anna, during her

visit, sheds both light and shadows on her hosts’ pasts that may have

included both Kate and Deeley in some delicate liaisons.

The short, 90-minute play (that includes a 20-minute intermission),

miraculously touches more levels of truth and relationships than many

more verbose and extenuated dramas. Indeed, Pinter’s famous pauses

reverberate like thunder, especially when manipulated by a cast that

know just how to sustain a beat and build toward more than a few



Oh yes, the wit, the words, and the deceptively


action are all there too, just as acute and just as suspenseful as

the meticulously crafted voids between them. If there is a bit too

much telegraphing of the grimness and the veiled threats that pass

between this by-past-possessed trio, thereby short-circuiting some

of the jolts and shocks, the result is hardly disheartening. What

there are to relish are the bold contrasts between the nastiness of

the mood and the sheer fun of the wordplay, its rhythmic flexibility.

As Kate, the tall, blonde, and patrician Dee Hoty seductively inhabits

designer Linda Cho’s cream-colored outfit, later languidly lying about

in a terrycloth robe. Heretofore know for roles in musical theater

— "The Will Rogers Follies," "Footloose,"


of Angels" — Hoty maneuvers through her own inner space with

riveting self-absorption and makes the deceptively composed wife a

fortress of quiet strength.

Sam Tsoutsouvas, a founding member of John Houseman’s Acting Company,

doesn’t take a back seat in this company of actors. He is quite


in the role of film director Deeley, who not only recalls with


candor and ferocity his link with his mysterious houseguest, but who

must sadly and angrily relinquish his hold on the present.

Lisa Harrow is equally stunning as Anna. We first see her standing

in the room as a visible memory. Her slow, methodical entry, her dark

sculpted hair, and black dress deliberately allude to the mournful,

yet seductive, nature of her visit. Anna’s blurred and cryptic


include sharing a flat with Kate when they were working girls in


This and other bits of nostalgia and reminiscences initiate a


to the discomforted and emotionally threatened Deeley. Harrow, who

recently played the role of Vivian Bearing in "Wit"


and is a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, has her most


beguiling moments challenging Tsoutsouvas’s memory of her. This, as

they both embark on a protracted medley of tunes ranging from


Moon," "The Way You Look Tonight," to "They Can’t

Take That Away From Me," the latter significantly adding its own

bit of mystery.

The potency of the dense atmosphere is then unexpectedly charged by

Deeley who details the events surrounding his going to see the film

"Odd Man Out," at which he first met Kate. Anna, however,

has her own version of the pickup at the cinema. This time making

it a memory for herself and Kate. Then there is the matter of the

stolen underwear.

Lighting designer Francis Aronson has lit the play beautifully, and

in particular the carefully shadowed scene in which the willowy Kate

disrobes and steps naked into her bath. Deeley and Anna stand and

watch transfixed by her movements. We cannot help but be transfixed

as we begin to understand how the curious wordplay may, at last, be

succumbing to the power play.

— Simon Saltzman

Old Times, George Street Playhouse , 9 Livingston

Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7717. $24 to $40. Performances continue

to April 15.

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