The house of Pinter in 'Old Times'
OLD TIMES’:Cecelia Specht, left, Cerris Morgan-Moyer and Dan Cowan star in the Harold Pinter play.
March 14, 2008 Los Angeles Times
Harold Pinter's plays are built on two levels. A ground floor of realism sits atop a basement of mystery and menace. American productions tend to have more trouble portraying the inhabitants of those quintessentially English rooms than they do capturing the ambiguous terrors lurking beneath them.
In the Lost Studio staging of "Old Times," Pinter's 1971 classic about a British filmmaker's fraught meeting with his enigmatic wife's old roommate, who shows up two decades later at the couple's chicly redone farmhouse, the cast at least has the right retro look. In particular, Dan Cowan's Deeley has a debonair style (kudos to costume designer Esther Rydell) that hints at the movie director's bohemian London existence before marriage and early middle age brought him to a quieter life in the country.
Directed by John Pleshette, whose acclaimed productions of "Moonlight," "No Man's Land" and "The Caretaker" make him something of a Pinter specialist, the drama is most convincingly brought to life during the author's famous pauses and silences. Unfortunately, when the actors speak Pinter's score ("dialogue" doesn't quite do it justice), they're less confident in their demeanor.
Cowan tries his best to seem natural, but his well-chosen clothes and shaken martinis aren't enough to hide a fuzzy characterization. And Cerris Morgan-Moyer, who plays the intruding Anna, strikes a few oddly contemporary notes as the long-lost friend with an unresolved (and possibly lesbian) attachment to Deeley's better half.
As the contested object of desire, Cecelia Specht's Kate has more moods than words, which may explain why she's the most believable figure onstage. She carefully preserves her feminine inscrutability, never allowing her husband and former flat-mate know what satisfaction she derives from their company.
The ensuing competition for possession of Kate takes place through Deeley and Anna's surreally charged chit-chat. Simple questions swell with erotic suspicion, and even lyrics of half-forgotten songs are recollected in a fierce game of one-upmanship.
Pinter's perennial themes are on scintillating display -- the malleability of reality through subjective memory, the territorial instincts that modern civility can't quite conceal and the Oedipal helplessness of men, who are as bewildered as they are bewitched by the female other.
"Old Times," like the past itself, never fully discloses its meaning. You're meant to be left bobbing in a sea of uncertainty. Although not all the identity issues in Pleshette's production are existential -- a few are the product of the ensemble's occasional awkwardness -- the essential aloneness of every lover, and would-be lover, painfully pierces through.
"Old Times," Lost Studio Theatre, 130 S. La Brea Ave., Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 13. Tickets: $20. (800) 595-4849. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.