Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Old Times
Power in the Indecipherable

Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Dean's review of Los Bufones

Celia Schaefer and John San Nicolas
Photo by Richard K. Hogle
So what's this play about? Relationships? Memory? Lies? Jealousy? Is there a main character, a protagonist? What does each of these three characters want? Where does the action rise, and where does it fall? And why is Deeley crying at the end? No answers. So, sit back and enjoy the beautiful language? Nope, not really. It's tricky language, but not beautiful. Yet Harold Pinter's Old times has a seething power. And it sticks somewhere inside you.

As the play opens, Deeley (John San Nicolas) and his wife Kate (Celia Schaefer) are expecting a visit from Kate's old friend Anna (Jacqueline Reid). Anna is actually on stage from the opening, with her back to the audience. Once she has "arrived" in the couple's home, she turns around and joins the action.

We watch and try to figure out what's going on among these characters as Kate and Anna discuss their lives together as young roommates in London. The three banter about old times and how Deeley and Kate met. In one charming banter, Deeley and Anna sing snippets from 1940s songs. Reid plays up Anna's sexiness and Deeley responds, but not to the point of taking any action.

Deeley figures out that he met Anna during those old days, and while Kate takes a bath, he recalls staring up Anna's skirt at a party. He confronts Anna, and she denies it. But when Kate rejoins them, Anna admits it. Through it all, there are dreamy remembrances of a man crying in Kata and Anna's London apartment. All through the play, recollections are challenged, refuted, admitted, and discarded. The banter rises in pitch until Kate bursts out with a dire confession that brings everything crumbling down and leaves Deeley in tears.

Though it is hard (perhaps impossible) to decipher exactly what Pinter is saying in Old Times, the play is far from nonsense. There are many interpretations of the play: Anna is the aspect of Kate that is unsettled in her marriage; both women are aspects of Deeley's psyche; Kate killed Anna to keep her away from Deeley. Ultimately, these interpretations are unsatisfying. Old Times doesn't seem to be a difficult puzzle that can be figured out. As Pinter himself put it, "My plays are realistic, but what I'm doing is not realism." Nor are they symbolic allegories that tell a pat story in a parallel universe. Old Times resists interpretation, yet it's still powerful. The language is lively, fun, maddening, sometimes luscious, sometimes beautiful.

The play echoes Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit in a number of ways. For one, the casting consists of two women and a man contained in a limited space. And notably, Deeley and Anna each move to the exit of the room, but neither tries to open the door to leave. It's also not clear who is the dominant character or protagonist. The early sense we get that Deeley is the central character may be a mirage. The fact that Kate never tries to depart the room suggests that she owns the space psychologically. While at first it looks and sounds like Deeley's play, it may actually belong to Kate even as she is repeatedly referred to as silent.

Director Gil Lazier had a deep theater background and the productions of his that I've seen at the Fusion (The New Electric Ballroom, The Country House, and Other Desert Cities) have all been both powerful and steady. Likewise with Old Times. He keeps the play from teetering when shifts in memory and perception among the characters threaten confusion.

Part of the strength of this production comes through the apparent trust among these actors. The play could so easily dissolve into three different plays in the heads of three different actors. Instead, the production is whole cloth. These actors blend well together. John San Nicolas (Deeley) and Celia Schaefer (Kate) worked well, also as a couple, in Disgraced during Fusion's last season.

Fusion is known for presenting some of the best actors and best acting in town. Reid (a Fusion co-founder), San Nicolas (in from Portland), and Schaefer (in from New York) are some of the best of the best we get to see here in Albuquerque. And they're under the wonderful direction of Gil Lazier. Terrific production—whatever the play's about.

Harold Pinter's Old Times, the Fusion Theatre Company, at the Cell Theatre, 700 1st. St. NW, Albuquerque, through February 12, 2017. Performances are Fridays at 7:00 pm, Saturdays at 2:00 pm and 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 3:00 pm. The Friday performance on February 10 is Union Night, when members of any union receive $25 tickets with valid ID. Must call box office for reservations. Tickets are $40, $35 for seniors. As a new trick beginning with this production, those under 30 pay their age. For reservations, go to, or call 766-9412.

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