By Brian Scott Lipton
The great British playwright Harold Pinter notoriously refused to give anyone – including actors – an explanation for what happens in his 1971 play “Old Times,” which lets critics (like me) and audience members (like you) off the hook. The test of any production of this enigmatic, talky 70-minute one-act is whether it keeps you engaged, and Douglas Hodge’s new production at the Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre mostly does the trick, thanks to the triumvirate of Clive Owen, Kelly Reilly, and the particularly stunning Eve Best.
The setting is an isolated house on the coast of England (rather abstractly if chicly rendered by Tony winner Christine Jones) where Deeley (Owen), who describes himself as a globe-trotting businessman, lives with his wife Kate (Reilly), whom he married two decades earlier. They are receiving their first-ever visit from Kate’s college friend Anna (Best), now a wealthy woman living in Sicily. Or at least that’s the set-up.
Kate seems to barely remember Anna, but Anna has vivid memories of the times they spent together. Deeley claims to never have met Kate, but later reverses his story, going into vivid detail of picking up Anna at a bar and staring at her thighs and her underwear (which may have been Kate’s) at a party. Then again, Kate declares Anna is actually long dead. What’s really happening – or did happen? I honestly think your guess is as good as mine.
The production marks Owen’s Broadway debut, and the dashing actor certainly knows how to command a stage. He has style, charm, and flair – though at times, he seems to be playing Deeley as a character in a Noel Coward play rather than a Pinteresque brooder. Reilly, best known here for her TV work (in “Black Box” and “True Detective”) often says more with a piercing look than with her mouth. And Best, who has thrilled Broadway audiences in “The Homecoming” and “A Moon for the Misbegotten” (as well as TV’s “Nurse Jackie”) lives up to her surname, delivering a wrenching, soulful performance as Anna, one that is as moody as Thom Yorke’s original music.
There’s little doubt that many theatergoers will be frustrated by the lack of a definite conclusion, and many will nod off more than here and there (helped none by Japhy Weidman’s dim lighting). But those who keep up with these “Times” will be rewarded.
Photos: Joan Marcus
Old Times is at the Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre (227 West 42nd Street).