Good Times, Bad Times

   Memory is one of life’s greatest mysteries. By its very nature, memory is a reconstruction—not a perfect replica—of the past. When we try to remember events, people, places, things, we cannot help but infuse those recollections with our own bias, our own dreams, our own delusions.

   The mysterious nature of memory is the jumping-off point for Harold Pinter’s Old Times, playing at Palm Beach Dramaworks through March 2. First produced in London in the early 1970s, Old Times is a play in two scenes featuring three characters: Kate, her husband Deeley and her former friend Anna, who drops by Kate and Deeley’s English country home after a 20-year hiatus from Kate’s life.

Shannon Koob and Craig Wroe in a scene from Old TImes. Photo by Alica Donelan

   These details are concrete—or so it seems—but the rest of the plot is up to interpretation. Questions arise though answers are few and far between in this 75-minute drama. Has Deeley met Anna before? Is Anna actually married to an unseen Italian man? And why is Kate constantly discussed as if she were dead? The beauty of this play is in the ambiguity, an ambiguity that director J. Barry Lewis manipulates to create a beautiful and ethereal production.

   From the moment the lights rise on the first scene, the audience is transported into a dream-like state. Brian Eno-esque music growls as a stark and sophisticated set is revealed; a handful of seating options and a small bar situated upstage center are the lone adornments. All three actors are onstage, though Anna’s back is turned to the audience as Deeley and Kate discuss their anticipated houseguest.

   All three actors excel in creating fully formed individuals in a short period of time. Due to the nature of the script, there is ample room to interpret these characters—interpretations that must be agreed upon and monitored by both actor and director. As Deeley, Craig Wroe presents an open, charismatic and sensitive man. When the audience is introduced to him, he is sitting with his legs sprawled across an armchair, signaling an ease of personality not shared by his wife. Kate, played by Shannon Koob, is internal, quiet and tightly wound; when she says Anna was her only friend, you’re able to accept this without question.

   Anna, on the other hand, bounces from one monologue to the next, always with something to say, always with a memory to share. Played with grace by Pilar Witherspoon, Anna is the yin to Kate’s yang. Though Kate is reluctant to accept Anna back into her life, it becomes clear as the play progresses that the two share an understanding of each other uncommon in even the closest of friends.

Pilar Witherspoon, Craig Wroe and Shannon Koob in a scene from Old Times. Photo by Alicia Donelan

   The bulk of the play’s tension arises during the second scene. Deeley and Anna argue over whether they’ve met before while Kate luxuriates in the bath. Kate returns and attempts to navigate their differing views of the past. These minor discrepancies crescendo into an emotional free-for-all, delicately handled by the trio of actors. Executed with poetic ease, the entire latter half of the play unfolds like a dream—someone else’s dream to which you are privy. When the stage lights fade and the house lights come up, your mind immediately jumps into interpretation mode. So is the beauty of the work of a playwright like Pinter.

   Old Times is a difficult play to wrap one’s mind around, especially in a few hundred words. If presented well, the play and its characters will haunt you for days. Palm Beach Dramaworks’ production oozes with nuance, leaving many clues to dissect and breadcrumbs to follow until you slip down the rabbit hole. You may never find your way out, but you’ll enjoy the fall.

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