Arts & Events

New: Theater Review: 'Old Times' at the City Club

Ken Bullock
Friday December 05, 2014 - 11:21:00 PM

"But I think I know what you mean. There are some things you remember that never happened."

Nothing much out of the ordinary ... A visit to a couple living in the country from the old roommate of the wife, someone out of the past, not seen in years ... But even before the visit itself, in the first words of Harold Pinter's 'Old Times,' the implications, the allusions of everything and anything that may--or may not--be said loom out of the shadows quite casually in the most banal speech:

"Was she your best friend?"

"What does that mean?"

--and by the end of the play, there's been something of a catharsis for the three "Old-Timers," whether seen as lost in uncertain memories, manipulators of those memories in themselves and each other, or strangers to each other and themselves, run aground on memory and speech ... 

A great deal of that catharsis is through laughter. The absurd humor of snatches of overheard conversations, of catching yourself or someone close saying something out of character, out of tune, is almost a form of punctuation in Pinter's dialogue. And self-contradiction's rampant, giving the play a sense of a faceted crystalline ornament revolved in your hand, revealing different obscure vistas inside. 

But the sense of danger blends in with chagrin, with humor that turns on itself, with one-upsmanship and put-down, unexpected sympathies, something almost like a joke form of elective affinities. Just who are these people? What they tell others? What they seem to believe themselves? 

Robert Estes, who's directed for Actors Ensemble and other theaters roundabouts, has long loved this dark gem of Pinter's, and is producing a short, midweek-only run for it at the Berkeley City Club at the perfect time of year, just as the year's ending, but in the kind of interregnum that falls between Thanksgiving and the social heat of Christmas/New Years, a particularly good moment for both the humor and pause for reflection that 'Old Times' occasions. 

Estes also assembled a team of "the ones I love to work with"--and it shows. Onstage, the three actors are completely different types who complement each other well in this little merry-go-round: acerbic Richard Aiello as Deeley, the husband constantly inserting himself between the women; Jody Christian as his reticent wife Kate; Mary Jo Price as ebullient Anna, now married to a wealthy man in Sicily. ("Do you go barefoot on your marble floors?") 

The three endlessly triangulate, but it's all brought to a head after a bath Kate takes, vanishing from the stage, during which time alone with Anna, Deeley reveals, to Anna's deadpan disagreement, surprise--or distaste--that they met years before at a party he's just recalled. And not long after Kate returns, demure in a robe, she drops her guise of quietude and launches into what can only be described as a tirade, those speeches, usually by leading ladies, from Racine or Corneille, apocalyptic affairs, almost prophecies or reportage of doom and despair, in this case telling how she went from roomie to wedded woman.  

Jody Christian performs Kate's tirade brilliantly, dropping at the end into sphinx-like repose, face like a mask, smile like a rictus, eyes shining under her fixed expression--with the others around her, a truly theatrical tableau. 

(It's good to see her back onstage, after a long hiatus. Jody Christian was always a bright face, a fine physical performer, one with depth, in Actors Ensemble productions of just a few years ago.) 

The shows are just Tuesdays and Wednesdays through December 17--8 p. m. at the City Club, 2315 Durant near Dana. $15-$30; advance tickets through