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
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
Avenue, New Brunswick, 732-246-7717. $24 to $40. Performances continue
to April 15.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.