by Susan Hasho
Christopher Martin was the founding Artistic Director of the Classic Stage Company and he has reimagined Harold Pinter’s Old Times for this current production at The Alchemical Theatre Laboratory. As director and designer, he has pruned a 3-person memory piece into a very spare exploration. Old Times is a three-person chamber piece circling around memory; how memory can be a weapon or a mystery or in this production, all smoke and mirrors with black holes of silence.
In a spare living room, with two beautiful leather chairs and fall leaves decorously strewn about in the background, the husband Deeley (Philip O’Gorman) seems a bit pissed off as he discusses the upcoming visit of his wife Kate’s (Katarina Vizina) old roommate Anna (Danielle Shimshoni). Anna arrives and she reminisces about the old days. Kate remains quiet and oddly removed. Anna starts to describe how Kate and she were as friends and roommates which is at great odds with the Kate we see. Deeley says he never met Anna and later, when Kate leaves to take a shower, he confronts Anna and tells her they have met before when she was hustling for drinks. Anna denies this. Kate returns from the shower and a medley of old standards are sung by each person, and then quietly performed in ensemble. Kate’s attitude toward Anna remains somewhat robotic; Deeley remains irritable and confrontational. The play continues as the characters circle in and around each other, truth and lies hard to decipher. Anna admits that she wore Kate’s underwear to a party and often was loaned underwear. Anne says to Deeley that she came “to celebrate a very old and treasured friendship, something that was forged between us long before you knew of our existence. I found her…” Deeley tells Kate that he and Anna have met before. Kate says nothing, but then says to Anna, “I remember you dead.”
The end of the play revolves around a strange story: Kate describes how Anna had been dead in bed, covered in dirt, and how her body was gone when a man arrived. She told the man that no one slept in the extra bed, and he lay in it, thinking Kate would sleep with him. Instead, she nearly suffocated him with mud from the flower pot by the window, and his response was a proposal of marriage. End of story, Deeley sobs. The play ends.
What is remarkable about this production is the seeming lack of emotion in the actors. Amid sexual innuendo and resentment hardly touched upon, we are left to our own devices with very few clues from the actors. Katarina Vizina, Philip O’Gorman and Danielle Shimshonu are all excellent and fulfill the director Christopher Martin’s vision with great skill. In an obscure play, the actors are providing very few clues about the truth (or dare) of this event. However, as the play progresses, a funny thing starts to happen: instead of relying on the actors to give up the truth, the words themselves become the highlight.
At the play’s end, there is an almost old-Hitchcock-movie atmosphere that leaves one…well…unsure.
Old Times plays until December 11th at The Alchemical Theatre Laboratory, 104 West 14th Street, NYC www.oldtimesnyc.com Tickets are $20 ($10 for students) and can be purchased online at www.thealchemical.com/upcoming .