Tracy Michelle Arnold, Carey Cannon and Jonathan Smoots in Old Times, 2009.
This weekend, told me in May that the Touchstone would be a home for "plays we could never do up the hill."
While the large, outdoor amphitheater fosters a kind of summery conviviality, the 200-seat Touchstone creates a focused intimacy.
That setting proved to be perfect for Pinter's 1971 drama, which explores the ever-shifting relationships between a husband and wife and the wife's visiting friend, her roommate from twenty years ago.
Set in England in a country house near the sea, Pinter's play is strange and spiky. While the title Old Times may conjure up an evening of nostalgic reminiscing, that's not what Pinter's after. Instead, despite flashes of wit, Old Times is essentially an unsettling, disturbing play, leaving the audience on a kind of quicksand as one tries to unravel the "truth" of the past. Of course, the past is elusive, with each person bringing his or her own memories -- or desire to forget -- to bear.
Laura Gordon directs a taut, memorable production that pays painstaking attention to Pinter's silences between lines of dialogue. Much depends on these occasionally uncomfortable gaps and the actors' facial expressions.
On APT's outdoor stage, these subtle expressions might get lost, but at the Touchstone, every nuance is laid bare. Audience members in the first row are practically sitting on the set.
Actors Jonathan Smoots and Tracy Michelle Arnold (both APT core company members), along with Carey Cannon, are all exceptional. To me, Pinter's dialogue is a curious mix of the stylized (in its meticulous pauses and occasional long speeches) and the natural (in the way that people change the subject, either consciously or unconsciously).
Smoots, who is married to director Gordon, plays Deeley, the husband. As always, his low, mellow voice is richly expressive, and he's able to convey an emotion with just the subtle clenching of a jaw as another character is speaking. A filmmaker who is urbane and outwardly confident, Deeley may harbor an inner fragility.
As Deeley's wife Kate, Tracy Michelle Arnold is perhaps the most challenging character to understand. From bits and pieces revealed in the play, we gather that she was once adventurous and artistic during her younger days in London with her friend Anna. But now, she seems placid, even passive, and some of Pinter's most curious dialogue is the infantilizing way Deeley and Anna talk about her.
Carey Cannon's Anna, in her crisp, menswear-inspired, black-and-white outfit paired with pointy stilettos, is androgynously sexy. Her visit to Deeley and Kate's country house unearths conflicting memories of the past that shake the status quo.
In both the choice of a more contemporary, edgy play like Old Times and the Touchstone Theatre itself, this is a refreshing new side of APT.
Old Times is brief -- about 70 minutes, not including intermission -- and the audience is invited to stay afterwards for a talkback with the actors and director after each performance.
And another practical note: if you're concerned about the Highway 14 detour on your way to Spring Green, check out the map on APT's website; it's much more helpful than anything you'll find from the Wisconsin DOT.