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We Love Arts: Pinter's "Old Times"

(c) We Love

May 25, 2011

Tracy Lynn Middendorf as Kate, Steven Culp as Deeley and Holly Twyford as Anna in the Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of "Old Times" by Harold Pinter, directed by Michael Kahn. Photo by Scott Suchman.
Steven Culp as Deeley in the Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of "Old Times" by Harold Pinter, directed by Michael Kahn. Photo by Scott Suchman.
Tracy Lynn Middendorf as Kate and Steven Culp as Deeley in the Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of "Old Times" by Harold Pinter, directed by Michael Kahn. Photo by Scott Suchman.
By Don

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what's a video with one word worth? In this case it's a pretty spot-on review of Shakespeare Theatre Company's production of "Old Times".

That's no criticism – art that leaves you talking about it for longer than you spent consuming it is rare indeed. I was fortunate enough to attend press night at the same time as several other friends and afterward we sat and discussed the show through a drink – and some fairly interminable service. We didn't reach any conclusions as a group and I'm not sure that any of us managed and conclusions individually. But it's the journey that's the pleasure in this Pinter play, not the destination, and that happens both because of the source material and because of the work of the cast and crew.

I've cheated a bit by skipping the usual opening paragraph plot recap, so let's get to it, shall we?

"Old Times" is about three – hmm. No.

"Old Times" tells the story of – mmm. No, possibly not.

There's three actors on stage though almost all of "Old Times"' roughly ninety minute running time.

Only Tracy Lynn Middendorf gets any time away, and only briefly at the head of the second act. The rest of the time all three are together on the almost completely white set, though we start soaking in our ambiguity right from the start of the play – Holly Twyford is most certainly a presence right from the first line, though she's standing with her back to us and Deely and Kate seem unaware she's there. Or is she there?

Tsk, that's getting away from me again. It never gets away from the trio on stage, however. While there will be a number of points where the audience may find themselves questioning whether someone stole a page of dialog out of the script books, the actors sell every second of it seamlessly. The classic saying is that "acting is reacting," so to react to disjointed moments as if they're as normal as whipped cream on pie is no minor feat.

That's not to say there's not some distracting things happening on stage. Whoever decided that it was necessary for these three American actors to put on British accents needs a firm kick in the shins. Pinter's play is set in England and makes copious mention of London, yes, but a few moments wondering if they're diplomats' kids would have taken us less out of the moment than the wandering lilts we get instead. You're brave enough to move Shakespeare's work across hundreds of years and put camera-wielding tourists into Euripides – you can let your cast speak in their own voices.

Voices aside, the cast does excellent work. Middendorf and Culp quickly allow you to forget that you've been seeing these two character actors on your television for a decade. Twyford shows why there was a long stretch a few years back where it felt like she was the only woman local casting directors were choosing as the female lead in any area productions. And the set – can we write about a STC production without mentioning how beautiful everything is on stage? Apparently not. At least this time the costumes – while well-chosen and attractive – don't look like they cost more than everything in your closet.

The journey is the destination in "Old Times", but I'd suggest you make sure you travel with a good amount of company. You'll want to talk out exactly where the hell you've been.

"Old Times"
Shakespeare Theatre Company's Lansburgh Theatre
450 7th Street NW,
Washington, DC 20004

Runs through July 3rd, 2011

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