Seeing a Harold Pinter play can be best described as a blind date. You don’t usually hear stories of people who go on blind dates and report back with a bland, “it was okay;” sometimes you end up with a great night, but most times, it’s a disaster. Pinter productions are a lot like that, too.
Pinter’s demands on his actors are enormously challenging. As a performer, you have to keep a completely separate and concurrent script in your head while making the one you’re animating on stage come alive. It takes actors of bravery and exceptional skill to pull off a Pinter play without having the audience feel every weighty pause like a punch to the face.
TheatreFIRST’s production of Old Times, which opened Friday, April 4th at the Gaia Arts Center in Berkeley was the sort of blind date you take home and marry a week later. The cast of L. Peter Callander, Zehra Berkman, and Julia McNeal created their world so completely, that it made me appreciate what Pinter did long before anyone even conceived of “reality television”. He showed his characters as they were: the good, the bad, and the weird. From Mr. Callander’s brooding incomprehension to Ms. MacNeal’s timorous vulnerability to Ms. Berkman’s effervescent grace, I left the theater under the impression that I was an invited guest into their homes and their lives.
The lighting, furniture, and sound design was cleanly shorn of anything even hinting of excess while Susannah Martin’s direction kept the show taught, unflinching, and on the mark. See this show if you can because it’s not often you find a keeper.