As hostile and cryptic as it is glamorous, FUSION's production of Harold Pinter's Old Times froths over with barely concealed tension. Brought to bear on stage by a small cast of three actors, the action in Pinter's 1971 play is all in the fraught conversation. The play lurches into its groove almost immediately, when couple Kate and Deeley welcome Kate's old friend, Anna, into their home. It has been 20 years since Kate has seen Anna, who was a very intimate companion during her youth.
The characters in this play are elusive, intentionally so, and what passes between them is quiet and creeping. As is the mark of Pinter, what's important lays largely in what is not said, as opposed to what the scripted dialogue contains. In this production of the play at The Cell Theatre, director Gil Lazier creates a mood and momentum that seems to be channeling the characters into something looming and inescapable—an abyss, a chasm. It is this deep sense of discomfiture that drives the play, overripe with pregnant glances and memories so cutting, they seem to almost physically wound those on the stage.
This play begs the question of how well we can ever know someone, and how we reconcile ourselves with the fact that someone we love has intimate memories with someone else, memories which we will never fully grasp or understand. This intimacy belongs to Kate and Anna, and as such Deeley—third wheel that he is at this dinner party—grapples for emotional dominance, adding another level of depth to the psychological currents threatening to sweep them all away. The barbed power of memory and the struggle for power is elucidated most strongly by Deeley, played with charisma and gravitas by John San Nicolas, a visiting artist from Portland. San Nicolas' presence alone is able to carry the play. This is in part a product of the dialogue written for him, fraught with anxiety as he interjects himself into the past of the two friends, delivered with a cadence that makes it musical.
This is not a lighthearted play, and certainly not the way to spend your Friday night if you want to leave the theater with your mood lifted. It is, however, a piece of theater that begs for discussion, and FUSION's production of it emphasizes all the elements most loved about Pinter's work. Here, the silence reigns supreme and when the actor's voices reach a crescendo, it only serves to build more tension rather than alleviate it. Viewers can dive into the rich darkness of this challenging work at The Cell Theatre on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until Feb. 12. General admission for the play is $40, however, Feb. 2 and 9 are “pay what you wish” admission nights, and on Feb. 10 the company offers tickets for $25 to members of any organized labor union. Additionally, if you are under 30 you can opt to “pay your age” for any performance of the show. Tickets are available online at fusionnm.org.