There’s really no middle ground when it comes to the late English playwright Harold Pinter. You’re either mesmerized by his mysterious, menacing, pause-filled psychological dramas or you find them puzzling, inert and empty — as I usually do.
That being said, the Roundabout’s new revival of his 1971 three-actor, 65-minute drama “Old Times” (which has an all-English cast and is directed by Tony-winning English actor Douglas Hodge) more than captures the playwright’s distinctive style, packed with steel and sexiness.
It is far better than the 2013 Broadway revival of Pinter’s “Betrayal,” which starred Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz.
In “Old Times,” married couple Deeley (Clive Owen) and Kate (Kelly Reilly), first seen smoking cigarettes and drinking liquor, are visited by Kate’s old friend Anna (Eve Best). Strangely, though, Anna is already onstage and lounging around before she has technically arrived.
As the three reminisce, their pasts become increasingly questionable. You can’t help but wonder whether the play is just a dream, or whether Kate and Anna are in fact shades of the same person.
The abstract set design (including a back wall that resembles the ripples of a vinyl record, a huge block of ice and a modern sofa) and the eerie background music (from Thom Yorke of Radiohead) make it clear that this is no ordinary domestic drama, and that more is going on than meets the eye.
The cast is excellent. As Owen becomes increasingly unhinged (eventually falling into a torrid of tears) and Best (originally so poised) gets a bit shaky herself, Reilly (seemingly unfazed) retains her cool composure. She is, in effect, the mass of ice.
“Old Times” is likely to feel like either an intense roller coaster rush or a dull, nonsensical sketch. Good luck with it.
If you go:
“Old Times” plays through Nov. 29 at the American Airlines Theatre. 227 W. 42nd St., roundabouttheatre.org.