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Review of "Old Times" at the Shakespeare Theatre

(c) Ask Miss

May 27, 2011

By Susan Dobridge

(Left to Right) Holly Twyford, Steven Culp and Tracy Lynn Middendorf. Photo by Scott Suchman, Courtesy Shakespeare Theatre.
The best part of "Old Times" at the Shakespeare Theatre now through July is, Harold Pinter's writing aside, Holly Twyford. It's not just the elegance of her walk in those school-marmy pumps that does it; she is a combination of English sass and over-bearing maternity that works in the role of the visitor in Harold Pinter's play about a reunion gone sour. Unfortunately, beyond Twyford's appearance, there isn't much else to endear visitors to this production.

"Old Times" revolves around the reunion of Anna and Kate, former London roommates, to the witness of Kate's husband, Deeley. Their conversation turns into a competition of verbal jabs between Deeley and Anna, aimed at winning the title of who knows Kate better. Although I'm not convinced that "Old Times" counts as a "modern classic," as director Michael Kahn suggests, it's a funny, brilliant, and well-crafted script.

Unfortunately, parts of this production come off without honoring Pinter's characters' depth. One suspects that with a few more weeks of sitting down with the script, performers Steven Culp and Tracy Lynn-Middendorf would improve their portrayals as Deeley and Kate, respectively. Culp falls into playing angry emotionalism, especially at the end of the second act when his knowledge of his wife's passion is questioned. I wished to see greater understanding of Deeley's vulnerability in the face of his guest.

Lynn-Middendorf's character Kate spends most of the play a witness to the conversation, which at times insults her. Unfortunately, offering first-hand evidence, instead of friction, to Anna and Deeley's accusations that Anna is a contemporary air-head, this Anna spends most of her time curled inactively on the couch. It's hard to know whether the seated passivity is Kahn's suggestion, Lynn-Middendorf's doing, or some combination of one with the script, both, or all three, but it comes off as just low energy. Her best moments come when she is standing, actually, or standing up for herself. One would admire a portrayal that resists Kate's objectification.

The play is not helped by Walt Spangler's set design, which consists of two each of re-positional couches, lamps, and tables, all in white against a white background. For one thing, it is too chic for a couple that envies Anna's posh lifestyle in her home, at Sicily (don't those couches look like they could be Italian?). Furthermore, the set fails to clue us into Kate's world as a housewife. We cannot, for instance, see a main object of Kate's desire: the outside world through the windows. It's certainly a very bleak world.

Perhaps it was Kahn's object to emphasize bleakness. But it seems like an easy escape. The set, like a lot of the production fails to portray the texture of Pinter's artwork. I think this play would do better with a compassionate review of its characters, and a more realistic set for them to grace. As it is, we miss much of their depth.

WHAT: "Old Times", dir. by Michael Kahn
WHEN: Now through July 3. See the Shakespeare Theatre's calendar for details, or Ph. 202-547-1122, Toll Free Ph. 877-547-1122 (Box Office)

WHERE: The Lansburgh Theater (entrance is around the corner from the Verizon Center on F Street)
450 7th St. NW Washington, DC 20004

Purchase On-line or Ph. 202-547-1122 Toll Free Ph. 877-547-1122

Box Office Hours:
When there is an evening performance: Monday: 10am – 6pm
Tuesday – Saturday: 10am – 6:30pm
Sunday: Noon – 6:30pm
(Box Office window open until curtain time)

When there is no evening performance:
Monday – Saturday: 10am – 6pm
Sunday: Noon – 6pm

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