Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Shakespeare Theatre Company Old Times

By • May 24th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Old Times by Harold Pinter
Shakespeare Theatre Company
Lansburgh Theatre, Washington DC
Through July 3rd
1:30 with one intermission
Reviewed May 22nd, 2011

Of course there’s a sense of menace. That’s a Harold Pinter play for you. And bullying. Bullies of various sorts are some of Pinter’s preferred agents of menace.

But sinister words and actions are quite refined in Pinter’s 1971 Old Times. Refinement and restraint are much in evidence in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s current revival of this dark comedy. If it weren’t for a loud outburst in which a defenseless sofa is punched, the element of danger would be mostly a matter of mood in STC artistic director Michael Kahn’s production.

Kahn titrates a rising sense of uneasiness with drawing room comedy moments of wry civility and — most importantly — with droll bits of bawdiness and verbal sparring.

Perfect for Kahn’s purposes is Holly Twyford, who plays the essential Pinter upsetter, the disturbing visitor who throws a seemingly stable status quo off-balance. We eventually realize that the status quo is not really steady and its balance is dubious.

Twyford plays Anna, back in England after 20 years abroad. She is visiting her old friend and former London roommate Kate. Kate now lives with her husband Deeley in a seaside village.

During Old Times‘ 90 minutes, Deeley, played by Steven Culp, descends from barely polite sneering and sarcasm to boorish bluster. From there he slips into a state of blubbering humiliation.

Kate is an enigmatic blank which Deeley, Anna and the audience can project qualities ranging from adorable to dire. I’ll go with the dire end of the spectrum. As played by Tracy Lynn Middendorf, Kate evolves from smiling remoteness to detached nuttiness. Starting as a decorative non-entity, Kate drifts into a state of lethargic psychosis. Toward the end of the play she matter-of-factly fantasizes about seeing her friend Anna dead and dirty.

As far as inspired acting is concerned, Twyford’s Anna carrries this production from start to finish, making it a rewarding (though essentially bleak) experience. Head held high, eyes flashing, Twyford moves briskly and speaks energetically. Her presence is edgy and unpredictable. She offsets Culp’s stolid petulance and truculence and Middendorf’s dull passivity.

Not that Twyford is putting on a one woman show at the STC. Culp and Middendorf offer enough give and take to make the drama dramatic.

A white and gray angular/modern setting by Walt Spangler serves as a suitably insipid background for narcissistic contemporary relationships.

Or at least Kate, Anna and Deeley were contemporary in 1971 when well-off Western persons (Harold Pinter was no exception) were busy with sexual intrigue.

As the decades passed, Pinter (1930-2008) turned his attention to more grandiose power plays. His brief 1988 drama Mountain Language took on the ultimate form of bullying: torture. It takes place in a Middle Eastern country during a war in which terror and atrocities have become routine.

When he won the 2008 Nobel Prize for literature, Pinter’s award presentation speech focused on the United States’ use of violence as a central foreign policy strategy. His attention had shifted from the pathetic likes of Deeley to a superpower ready to devastate weaker nations at will.

Photo Gallery

Steven Culp as Deeley and Tracy Lynn Middendorf as Kate with Holly Twyford as Anna Steven Culp as Deeley
Steven Culp as Deeley and Tracy Lynn Middendorf as Kate with Holly Twyford as Anna
Steven Culp as Deeley
Holly Twyford as Anna Tracy Lynn Middendorf as Kate and Holly Twyford as Anna
Holly Twyford as Anna
Tracy Lynn Middendorf as Kate and Holly Twyford as Anna

Photos by Scott Suchman


  • Deely: Steven Culp
  • Kate: Tracy Lynn Middendorf
  • Anna: Holly Twyford


  • Director: Michael Kahn
  • Set Designer: Walt Spangler
  • Costume Designer: Jane Greenwood
  • Lighting Designer: Scott Zielinski
  • Sound Designer: Martin Desjardins
  • Casting Director: Laura Stanczyk, CSA
  • Resident Casting Director: Daniel Rehbehn
  • Voice and Dialect Coach: Ellen O’Brien
  • Stage Manager: Beth Ellen Spencer
  • Assistant Stage Manager: Elizabeth Clewley

Disclaimer: Shakespeare Theatre Company provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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lives in Arlington with his wife, daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. Before retiring last year at age 70, he was theater critic at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for 27 years. Prior to that, he reviewed plays for the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Texas Observer and the Swarthmore College Phoenix. Non-reviewing journalistic jobs include writing for the Houston Chronicle, the San Juan (Puerto Rico) Star and El Mundo de San Juan. Think about it: most of the papers he worked for no longer exist. Maybe this internet gig has better longevity prospects.

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