Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Old Times - by Harold Pinter
Premiered in 1971 by the Royal Shakespeare Company in London. Old Times is a play in two acts with no scene breaks. There are three characters, Deeley, Kate and Anna.
In the beginning they are all on-stage, although Anna is in dim light. Deeley and Kate are married and awaiting the arrival of Anna, an old friend of Kate's. Her only friend she says. Deeley is curious. Anna arrives from her volcanic island where her husband remains in a white dinner jacket. She and Deeley speak while Kate becomes vague-er and vague-er. She relates the old times, when she and Kate were room-mates in London, rushing off to art events and working as secretaries. She and Deeley sing snatches of old songs back and forth. Kate goes to take a bath.
In the second act, Anna and Deeley are present. They continue the reminsce with shifts. Deeley claims to remember Anna, fragments of what Kate has related to Deeley return in Anna's mouth with shifted meanings. Kate emerges from the bath, relating her happiness about the country, how soft it is. The vying for dominance of memory in the room takes a turn, things are sexually charged in an indeterminable way and Kate relates a memory of Anna dead in their room, covered with dirt. Her body disappeared and Kate brought Deeley home, wanting to cover him with dirt - instead they got married. Silence falls. Each character finds a chair to rest on, Deeley shifts around. Black out.
Absurdity, the self-conscious use of language - characters commenting on words that they don't hear often, misunderstanding the object of sentences, using strange constructions. The careful placement of pauses, of stage directions, of laughter - that seems menacing though I'm not sure why. All this is what makes it Pinters. When I read him I rush through then go back. I am worried someone will be killed, someone will attack, no one does in this play at least. That feeling of dream permeates it though - as well as absurdity, but it's not funny.
How? How does is this acheived? a combination of detailed, slightly off monologues with the rigid, deliberate dialogue. The sense of things being said in an echo chamber, silence all around them, a cold space. The feeling that anyone could be lying, and that everyone probably is - but it's all amongst such normal activity. They've made a casserole for a visitor, what if she's vegetarian? Is she married? Why doesn't she bring her husband? These opening questions turn into - why does she space out like that? Is she ill? Is she dead? Does her husband have an on-going affair with this old friend? Are they humoring the wife? The slipperiness and dead creepiness of memory sneak in and no explanations are forth coming, for a moment there's a sense of releif after Kate finally starts to speak. But she doesn't really explain anything and in fact is pretty disturbing, and her husband starts to weep, and no one says anything.
It is its own little nutshell.