by SOPHIE KERMAN
The process of getting to the Loring Alley Theatre last night was long and circuitous. The space – a chilly concrete room also used as an indoor skateboard park, when not as a theater – is tucked away in the alley behind Joe’s Garage and Lurcat, and my friend and I walked past it twice as we circled the block, looking for a conspicuous sign, or at least some outdoor light. When we finally spotted the black-and-white sheets of printer paper pointing the way to the Nightpath Theatre Company‘s production of Old Times, we entered the theater with a cautious sense of relief: after such a confusing search, we hoped that the payoff would be good.
The first act of Old Times kept up the mood of discovery. The play, written in 1971 by Harold Pinter, is itself a journey into the dark recesses of memory, and Pinter’s carefully-placed clues keep the audiences waiting for more pieces of the puzzle. It begins with the introverted, daydreamer Kate (Blake Bolan) and her husband Deeley (Joey Metzger), awaiting the arrival of Kate’s former friend and roommate, Anna (Sheila Regan). When Anna arrives, animatedly reminiscing about the fun she and Kate had in their youth, the situation quickly dissolves into a battle between Anna and Deeley for Kate’s attention. (The staging of a sing-off between the two is one of the funniest moments of the play.)
The play’s challenge and fun come both from Deeley and Anna’s battle of sexual one-upmanship, and from the process of figuring out what exactly the relationships are – and were – between the three characters. Old Times has a reputation for having several possible interpretations; since the whole point is to challenge the accuracy of our perceptions of memory, the truth behind the characters themselves is meant to remain a juicy puzzle.
The trouble is, while the play’s ripe potential is what should make it intriguing, director Maggie Scanlan doesn’t provide enough focus to this production to give her audiences a place to start. As Kate, Bolan’s performance wavers between a housewife’s bored languor and a disconcerting sense of vacancy, while Metzger’s interpretation of Deeley doesn’t quite have the teeth to be a worthy adversary for Regan’s wiles. Regan, in turn, plays Anna right on the border between sensuality and sexuality, at times so overtly that the character actually loses some of her seductive charm.
If only this production provided a bit of string to follow through Pinter’s labyrinth of identity and memory! While the characters’ lack of clear motivation (beyond simply winning Kate’s attention) makes the first act interesting to try and puzzle out, the second act yields no greater revelation. The script provides a scene near the end where the trio’s narrative comes together, but the aha! moment of interpretive clarity just didn’t click into place for me.
When thinking about the play’s psychological intrigue, I can’t help but compare it to the process of finding the theater in Loring Park’s back alleys. I don’t need a map; and indeed, I am fairly sure that providing an “answer” to Old Times would be an insult to Pinter’s theatrical craftsmanship. Still, a clearer sign would have kept me from wandering around for too long in the dark, and the sense of discovery would not have been less great.
Old Times by Harold Pinter, presented by Nightpath Theatre Company at the Loring Alley Theatre, 1621 Harmon Pl#150, Minneapolis, MN,55403. November 8-17, 2012. Tickets $12-18. Reservations and information: http://oldtimes.brownpapertickets.com/, http://nightpaththeatre.com/.