“Old Times” Forces You to Think
By Skip Sheffield
It was Superbowl Sunday. I decided to do a profoundly un-Big Game thing: I went to see Harold Pinter’s “Old Times” at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. The play continues through March 2.
I never watched the Big Game, but I sure am glad I saw “Old Times.”
The thoroughly British, 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature-winner Harold Pinter is a “difficult” playwright. His dialogue is spare, enigmatic, contradictory and sometimes just baffling. His 1971 work “Old Times” is one of his most baffling, yet brilliant pieces. Some critics have described Pinter’s genre as “comedy with menace.” Certainly there is menace along with some laughs in this three-character play about a married couple and a friend of the wife who comes to visit after 20 years away.
The play begins in the parlor of the couple’s converted farmhouse on the west coast of England. Deeley (Craig Wroe) asks his wife Kate (Shannon Koob) about her long-lost friend.
“She was my best friend,” Kate explains. “She was my only friend.”
“If you have only one of something, you can’t say it’s the best of anything,” Deeley counters.
And so it continues with seemingly trivial small talk about the casserole Kate is cooking and the impending arrival of the mysterious guest.
Anna (Pilar Witherspoon), who like Kate is in her early 40s, is a much more talkative, outgoing person than Anna. The small talk continues. Deeley recalls he met Anna at a movie theater that was showing “Odd Man Out.” That title will take on added significance by play’s end, when we learn some things said by Deeley, Kate and Anna are simply not true. As Pinter himself says, “A thing is not necessarily true or false; it can be both true and false.”
“Old Times” is performed without intermission in just one hour, 15 minutes. A set change is performed onstage in full view, as the parlor becomes an upstairs bedroom. Director J. Barry Lewis has cast three extraordinary professionals with most impressive credentials to play the sketchy, under-written characters. The power of the play is conveyed by the interior emotions of the characters, which is up to the actor to convey. My guest was a woman in her early 30s. She was as fascinated with the real meaning of the play as I was. We both came to pretty much the same conclusion, but the wonder of Pinter is that everything is up for debate. If you want a play that makes you think “out of the box,” this show’s for you.
Tickets are $60. Call 561-514-4012 or go to www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.