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An Unconventional Love Triangle in "Old Times"

(c) The Washington Examiner

May 30, 2011

By Barbara Mackay

Throughout his career, Harold Pinter was extraordinarily adept at plumbing human appetites and probing the depths of personality. His ""Old Times"," in a brilliant production at the Shakespeare Theatre Company, is proof of Pinter's ability to make those appetites fascinating and to keep those personalities mesmerizing.

"Old Times" takes place near the sea in the home of the filmmaker Deeley (Steven Culp) and Kate (Tracy Lynn Middendorf), who have been married for 20 years. They are waiting for the visit of Anna (Holly Twyford), Kate's roommate years earlier in London.

As the play begins, Kate and Deeley quietly discuss Anna's visit, establishing that Anna had many friends, whereas Anna was Kate's only friend, revealing that Anna often stole Kate's underwear. But as soon as Anna enters, the conversation becomes brisk and animated as Anna recalls what life was like for two secretaries working in the day, rushing to concerts or the opera or the ballet at night. "What stamina," she notes.

And then Anna comments on the quiet of the place: "... how sensible and courageous of you both to stay permanently in such a silence." And it is clear that Anna has come to disrupt that silence and do battle with Deeley for possession of Kate.

Pinter was fascinated with memory and "Old Times" is classic Pinter in terms of its dissection of the complicated nature of and slippery power of memory. As the plot of "Old Times" spins out, both Deeley and Anna remember being the one who took Kate to see the movie "Odd Man Out." At another time, Deeley confronts Anna about taking her to a party 20 years earlier and taking her out for coffee, concluding his speech to Kate: "She [Anna] thought she was you. ... Maybe it was you, having coffee with me."

Director Michael Kahn invests this production with all the sexual and psychological tension and humor it deserves. Middendorf is taking as the beautiful, aloof Kate. Deeley is portrayed well by Culp as a man who crumbles when he realizes what a sham his marriage is. Twyford is priceless as the vivacious, chattering Anna, battling Deeley for pre-eminence through dialogue and song.

As they move around Walt Spangler's ultramodern, all-white-and-chrome set, the female characters stand out in brilliant clarity dressed in Jane Greenwood's costumes. Kate's pale apricot sweater and slacks and pale peach silk robe contrast with Anna's stiff, high-necked dark blue dress.

At one point Anna says, "There are some things one remembers even though they may never have happened." This production makes that statement intriguing and almost credible, and illustrates well the enigma of memory and its devious, provocative and even dangerous nature.

On stage: "Old Times"

Where: The Shakespeare Theatre Company, the Lansburgh Theatre, 450 Seventh St. NW
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Sundays; 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 2 p.m.
Info: Tickets start at $37; 202-547-1122; ShakespeareTheatre.orgSaturdays and Sundays. 12 p.m. June 29. Through July 3

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