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Review: "Old Times"

(c) Talkin

May 31, 2011

By Susan Berlin

Walt Spangler's scenic design sets the tone for the Shakespeare Theatre Company production of Harold Pinter's 1971 play "Old Times": a featureless white box of a room with plain white furniture and glass lamps and tables, even a white painting on a white wall. Similarly, the surface of the play is a blank slate, fascinatingly theatrical yet opaque, allowing each audience member to create his or her impressions.

The play examines three people and the evanescence of memory. Deeley (Steven Culp) and his wife Kate (Tracy Lynn Middendorf) seem to be living a quiet, insular life in their country home, but a visit from Kate's long-ago friend and roommate Anna (Holly Twyford) disrupts their routine. Deeley feels threatened by the bond Anna recalls between herself and Kate; he lashes out at Anna by sharing his own memories of her that she denies but then repeats to Kate-or is she manipulating his words for her own purposes? Kate remains circumspect, reflecting in turn what each of the others wants her to be while never quite expressing herself.

The central question is the nature of truth and falsehood, and how memories may shift depending on the speaker and the situation. Anna suggests that memory is malleable enough that one can "remember" things that never happened-a situation that appears to happen many times in the course of the 90-minute drama.

Director Michael Kahn understands the impact of the unseen and unspoken on observable behavior, and he has three performers who can convey depths of character with a minimum of extraneous emotion. Twyford is striking in her self-possession, her quiet confidence, and her apparent forthrightness even when contradicting herself. Culp is more aggressive though never violent, and Middendorf ably demonstrates the mercurial nature of a person who takes on different personas in changing circumstances.

Pinter plays with audience expectations, even pitting Deeley against Anna in a sort of sing-off to capture Kate's attention. The work is also frequently very funny, but concrete conclusions remain elusive in the sense of objects reflected in two mirrors facing each other.

Shakespeare Theatre Company

"Old Times"
By Harold Pinter

May 17th - July 3rd

Deeley: Steven Culp
Kate: Tracy Lynn Middendorf
Anna: Holly Twyford

Directed by Michael Kahn

Harman Center for the Arts, Lansburgh Theatre
450 7th St. N.W.
Washington, DC

Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or

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