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Memories turn disturbingly fluid in ‘Old Times’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — In Harold Pinter’s convoluted vision, memory becomes a gauzy hinterland.

Emotional embers smolder in this 1971 portrait of a man, a woman and her friend who discover how little they know about one another in “Old Times,” often cited as the British playwright’s masterpiece.

In Pinter’s world, memory is both a power tool and the defining dynamic in all relationships. Those power plays shift continuously.

“It’s about a couple living in a remote farmhouse somewhere on the coast of England,” director Gil Lazier said. “The play begins with them talking about a guest.”

Deeley and Kate are discussing Anna, who shared a flat with Kate 20 years ago. Anna arrives chattering incessantly about her fun times with Kate. Deeley tells her he first met Kate at a movie and asked her out for coffee. Anna rebuts his story with her own about finding Kate sitting in silence while a young man sat in their armchair weeping. Deeley seems determined to inject himself into that bygone feminine world with more than a bit of testosterone as the one-upmanship accelerates.

And so the ever-changing triangles of power and memory begin.

“Things that touch people daily are woven into this simple people story,” Lazier said.

“For me, it’s one of the great plays of our time. It’s written by a playwright that is so significant. He in many ways revolutionized how theater works for people because he doesn’t completely rely on plot to tell the story.”

At first, Deeley and Anna compete over their knowledge of Kate. Deeley discovers he doesn’t know his wife as well as he thought he did.

“It’s funny, it’s sinister, it’s disturbing, all in the course of two very short acts,” Lazier said.” There’s one triangle after another. It’s two women versus the guy. It keeps shifting, it keeps changing as the play progresses.”

Pinter’s prose works as poetry, demanding that his audience listen intently, Lazier continued.

“They’re not speaking in verse or iambic pentameter,” he said. “But the words are so delicious that it’s like reading a musical score. There are times the rests are as important to the score; so are his pauses. There are more than stops in the play; they give the characters a chance to react to what’s going on.”

During 1984 rehearsals for a Roundabout Theatre production, Anthony Hopkins asked Pinter to explain the play’s ending. The playwright responded, “I don’t know. Just do it.”

“Old Times” stars FUSION co-founder Jacqueline Reid, John San Nicolas and Celia Schaefer. Nicolas and Schaefer starred in last season’s “DISGRACED.” Lazier has directed more than 30 productions in the U.S. and abroad, including Neil Simon’s “I Ought to Be in Pictures” in a 10-year Russian run in Moscow.



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