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Old Times at The Cell

Old Times at The Cell

“Old Times” By Harold Pinter
FUSION Theatre Company at The Cell

Review by Stephanie Hainsfurther

It’s up to the director of any Pinter play to point us toward its substance—or not. The playwright famously did not know much about his own “Old Times” except that characters A, B and C would somehow interact and reveal a few things. Would they reveal the truth? In his speech accepting the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, Pinter said:

“But the real truth is that there never is any such thing as one truth to be found in dramatic art. There are many. These truths challenge each other, recoil from each other, reflect each other, ignore each other, tease each other, are blind to each other. Sometimes you feel you have the truth of a moment in your hand, then it slips through your fingers and is lost.”

Director Gil Lazier holds this play up to the light and turns it, refracting the stories its characters tell one another and themselves. Such a prismatic work needs a guiding hand but an open mind. Lazier allows the actors to share out and the audience to breathe in a whiff of meaning.

anna in old times

Jacqueline Reid as Anna in “Old Times” by Harold Pinter.

A man (John San Nicolas as Deeley) and a woman (Celia Schaefer as Kate) discuss the impending visit of an old roommate of Kate’s (Jacqueline Reid as Anna) on a spare and impersonal set designed by Richard K. Hogle. The other woman is standing at the window with her back to us. Deeley is curious about the past relationship between the women and asks a lot of questions. Kate answers but, when Anna turns to join them, Kate goes mostly silent, allowing Anna to tell her version of their story. Something smolders between the two women, leaving Deeley out in the cold.

Deeley and Anna bond over World War II- era songs. When Kate leaves the room to take a bath, Deeley tells Anna that he saw her in a pub once and looked up her skirt. Anna used to borrow Kate’s underwear. Is this “fact” significant? Up to you. And where are we, anyway? There is some teasing bordering on taunting here between Deeley and Anna, reminding me of Sartre’s “No Exit.” (If this is hell, I’m happy to learn it has an adjacent bathroom.)

Kate returns to the room and the reminiscing continues, culminating in her sharp appraisals of Anna’s and Deeley’s roles in her own life. Is Deeley the man Anna remembers sobbing in their apartment? Did Deeley pick up Anna in the pub, or Kate? Would Kate eventually get rid of Anna and later make love to Deeley on Anna’s bed? The play is about memory and identity without explaining either, steeped in small mysteries we watch unfolding at the same time they close up again.

The actors make this an exciting play to watch. FUSION Theatre Company brings Schaefer and San Nicolas in again from New York City and Portland, Ore., as they did for “Disgraced” last season. Schaefer’s blonde and Reid’s brunette hair make a (maybe) meaningful contrast, as do Schaefer’s upperclass and San Nicolas’s streetwise English accents. The three are quite attractive and believably sexy.

—Stephanie Hainsfurther is the publisher of Elbow Room Magazine.

“Old Times” runs through Feb. 10 at The Cell, 700-708 1st St. NW, (505) 766.9412,

Featured photo: Celia Schaefer (Kate) and John San Nicolas (Deeley) in “Old Times,” directed by Gil Lazier.