ARENA STAGE has mounted a masterfully disconcerting revival of Harold Pinter's cryptic, cerebral comedy- drama "Old Times." Delicately directed by Garland Wright at the Kreeger Theater, it benefits from a striking stage design and intelligent acting.
Husband and wife Deeley and Kate sit in their seaside cottage entertaining Anna, a friend Kate hasn't seen in 20 years, when they were running about together in London. As they coil in their chairs, smoking and sipping brandy, Anna reminisces breathlessly about their times together as free young women.
Deeley soon begins to bridle at Anna's pretensions and her intimations of a deeper intimacy with his wife, and their politely chilly sitting room conversation evolves into an indirect but verbally vicious tug-of-war over Kate, who remains impassive and detached.
As often eerie as it is dryly funny, "Old Times" contains typically Pintery splinters of conversation, missed connections, nonsequiturs -- and those long pauses, which may be either significant or empty. The play's pointed ambiguity allows several shades of interpretation: It may be about the disruptive intrusion of the past; about how someone will always have prior claim to someone we love and how disturbing that can be; and/or about the forms an obsession can take, the hunger to possess or become the object you desire.
Tana Hicken, whose looks are a blend of beauty and severity, is perfect as the distantly sensual Kate, the fulcrum of their affection. Halo Wines is a pert and delicate Anna, taking off on rapt, unconscious flights about her halcyon days, and coolly asserting an erotic sway over Kate. As Deeley, Stanley Anderson moves expertly and gradually from an unruffled confidence to agitated aggression.
The Arena production is marked by a strikingly blank set and lighting design, which highlights every nuance in the performances. The set, by Douglas O. Stein, is an oddly angled plain gray box, austerely furnished with high-tech chrome and black leather furniture and a video screen that displays a colored test pattern (a modern painting?). To create the second act's bedroom, the furniture is switched to white hospital beds, and the screen wittily depicts a blazing fireplace. Nancy Schertler's lighting is mysterious and eloquent, using several swift, startling switches of the light to suggest different ways of seeing these three people.
OLD TIMES -- At Arena Stage's Kreeger Theater through June.