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"Old Times" at the Lansburgh Theatre directed by Michael Kahn

(c) Pamelas

June 16, 2011

By Pamela Sorensen

I love watching movies, plays, shows, and even reading books that leave you wondering, what really happened? What was this supposed to mean? Actually, I lie. I love it up to a point until my brain says, "What is the answer? I need the truth!" That's why when I watch real life crime stories on A&E or on Dateline NBC I am left with an incomplete self if it turns out to be a cold case.

Harold Pinter's Old Times fits the bill of "What really happened?" perfectly. When I went last week to the Shakespeare Theatre performance with my friend who lives to be on stage, she and I walked out of the Lansburgh with clearly puzzled looks on our faces. We were quiet as we got into the car, lost in thought, considering what we just witnessed. The Michael Kahn directed three-character two-act play was brilliant from beginning to end. I had not done my research on the play prior (doh!) and I'm quite glad I didn't because sometimes, the thrill of being a part of an enactment like Old Times needs to be for the very first time.

The theater was almost filled on this particular Thursday evening (obviously the word had gotten out on how well directed and executed it was). My friend and I had quickly grabbed some wine and bites next door at SEI and when we walked into the theatre, we immediately noticed a packed house. Seated a few rows back from the stage in the dead center (there are no bad seats in this arena), as the lights dimmed and the bright stage lights flipped on, we knew we were in for a show. The set was sparse, white, bare, cold, and gave the perfect backdrop for the three characters. One could ONLY notice them and ONLY pay clear and present attention to every word, phrase, look, movement, step, inhalation (they smoked "lettuce cigarettes" - Michael Kahn shared this with me on my Facebook wall), and silence. At first, I suspected forgotten lines, but that would not happen with these professionals and certainly not in Michael Kahn's house, nor with the Shakespeare Theatre company. Turns out the silences were on purpose. The audience in fact is to interpret what they mean. The silences are part of realistic awkward conversations.

It's two acts and goes by quickly, but trust me, you pay attention, in fact, I would go back and see it again if time permitted. I'd want to see if I could catch little nuances I might have missed previously. It's like watching the film "The Usual Suspects", when you watch it again and again and again, you realize the actors brilliantly subtly offer you clues, but your eyes have been tricked, your ears have deleted words. Old Times plays with the concept of "memory" and begs us to decide what the truth is. Now after seeing Old Times, I think of my own life's memories and how I may remember a situation one way, but the other person might have recalled his own version. Then we might discuss and become frustrated because we both think our versions are the truth, but really.who is right?

Here's a quick synopsis and should you decide to do some research prior to the show, do, but going in cold is rather fun as well.

"Memory and reality collide in Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter's nostalgic and haunting play, Old Times. See what happens when an old friend visits a married couple and how their different memories of the past collide. What do their memories tell us and which interpretation of the past do we believe? Old Times is an intimate and highly charged exploration of whether we can ever really know another person, or even ourselves. Pinter's classic play, featuring his distinctive poetic style, is directed by Artistic Director Michael Kahn. Old Times marks the STC debuts of multiple Helen Hayes Awards winner Holly Twyford (The Little Dog Laughed; Lost in Yonkers), Steven Culp (American Conservatory Theater's Blackbird; "Desperate Housewives") and Tracy Lynn Middendorf ("Lost"; Lincoln Center Theater's Ah, Wilderness!)."

The show plays through July 3rd at the Lansburgh Theatre. We highly suggest you see it.

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