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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at American Airlines Theatre


  Clive Owen, Eve Best and Kelly Reilly/ Ph: Joan Marcus

“Dark” is the first word spoken in Harold Pinter’s gripping 1971 drama about a man, his wife and the wife’s visiting friend. Deeley (Clive Owen) was presumably curious about the hair of soon-to-arrive Anna (Eve Best), former intimate friend of Kate (Kelly Reilly). “Dark” might as well sum up the huge, glowering space that surrounds them at the American Airlines Theatre. Christine Jones’ set is undeniably impressive – a back wall covered with a vertiginous vortex that lights up the “converted farmhouse” specified in Pinter’s stage directions, rendered as an island of high-gloss black surfaces upon which chic modern furniture floats. (Close observers will note a turntable moving very slowly).
Combined with incidental music by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke (industrial and menacing, as you’d expect), the mood is dreamy, ghostly, interior. Problem is, the play already does all that. The designers are overdoing it. Although this slickly modern treatment avoids the pitfall of underscoring the play’s age (as did Mike Nichols’ seriously misjudged Betrayal in 2013), it needlessly stylizes what is already abstract.
We know the British director, Douglas Hodge, more as an actor (he was last seen here in the Roundabout’s 2012 Cyrano de Bergerac), so you would expect him to be stronger on acting. And indeed, Owen and Reilly are quite good. He’s coiled, boastful and sexy, with an edge of sleaze. She languorously transfers herself from divan to chair as if wafted by a draft, her sloe-eyed, sleepwalker presence belying a savage final attack.
As the third wheel, Best, normally a steely presence, seems stranded between her costars’ choices: too bland and self-contained when she should be spiky and aggressive. Possibly overcompensating, Owen relishes the seedy and vicious side of Deeley, alternately loathing and lusting after Anna, boiling with anger against the lukewarm Best. If the central conflict of Old Times is a man trying to protect his wife from a predatory stranger (or maybe he’s the stranger), it has been diluted by uncertain acting choices.
I say “if.” The beauty and power of the 70-minute piece lies in how the idea of recalling one’s past is a sort of betrayal, an act of violence against another. The weapons in this battle are memories – overlapping, contradicting, insinuating themselves into the present. Despite excessive design and a misjudged performance, Pinter’s precise, lyrical language comes through with crystalized, cutting force. That’s generally true of Pinter in revival. The language has been trimmed of fat and unnecessary cultural references, and it consequently sounds like it could have been written yesterday. (Perhaps his characters’ social prejudices and sexual preoccupations are more dated.) So in this first Broadway revival of Old Times, very little feels old; the blood flows freshly from new wounds.


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