An excellent revival of Pinter's dark, fascinating comedy 'Old Times'
New York — Old Times. Play by Harold Pinter. Starring Jane Alexander, Anthony Hopkins, Marsha Mason. Directed by Kenneth Frankel. ''There are some things one remembers even though they never happened,'' says Anna in Harold Pinter's ''Old Times.'' And then she adds: ''There are things I remember which may never have happened but as I recall them they take place.''
Such things are the matters of Mr. Pinter's darkly fascinating comedy, which is being given its first major New York production since it was introduced to New York audiences in 1971. The play deals with events remembered - or imagined - by the three people Mr. Pinter has assembled in a converted English farmhouse on an autumn night. The chic conversion designed by Marjorie Bradley Kellogg for the Roundabout Theatre revival features pale gray walls and those uncomfortable modern sofas with no backs.
The mode is stylish bleak, the effect painterly. It suits the conversational game-playing Mr. Pinter employs to conceal, explore, and reveal psychological insights. ''Old Times'' recalls something Robert Frost once said when asked if all his poems ''happened'' to him. He replied: ''Well, they occurred to me.'' In this sense, the 20-year-past events of ''Old Times'' occurred to Anna (Jane Alexander) and Kate (Marsha Mason), two former roommates, and to Deeley (Anthony Hopkins), the film director Kate has married.
Anna is visiting them in the interests of what she describes at one point as a celebration. But the mood is not celebratory. Instead, it is an occasion in which remembrances and imaginings of things past ricochet off each other in a wounding power struggle between Anna and Deeley to control the past they shared with Kate (if that is not stating the conflict too literally).
In typical Pinter fashion, the playful and the deadly earnest alternate and mingle to intensify the urgency of the situation. There is Deeley's ironic account of seeing ''Odd Man Out'' at a neighborhood cinema, an event in which Anna and Kate appear to have been linked. There is the little pop-song duel in which Deeley and Anna remember phrases from familiar melodies. The medley includes ''These Foolish Things,'' with its ''Oh, how the ghost of you clings'' - a telling line for a play haunted by ghostly memories.
Mr. Hopkins and Miss Alexander match parries - and pauses - with superb precision as Deeley and Anna manipulate memory in pursuit of their fierce contest. Mr. Hopkins's Deeley seeks to dominate and devastate his wife's visitor as he mocks her verbal affectations and adds nasty insult to injury.
Beautiful and statuesque, Miss Alexander endows Anna with an imperturbability that more than matches Deeley's verbal aggression. As the object of contention, Miss Mason's apparently passive Kate emerges at last to deliver one of the most chilling speeches in ''Old Times.'' The balance of conflicting, subtly articulated forces is brilliantly preserved in the performances staged by Kenneth Frankel.
Judy Rasmuson devised the bright-white lighting and Linda Fisher designed the costumes for this excellent Roundabout production. Friends. Comedy by Lee Kalcheim. Directed by Barnet Kellman.
It's crisis time at Mel Simon's custom-built log cabin in a pleasant neck of the Vermont woods. Mel (Ron Silver) is entertaining his closest friend and former Yale roommate, Harold (Okie) Peterson (Craig T. Nelson), a Midwest farm boy who has gone on to become a United Nations diplomat. Prospects are bright for Peterson to be named the next United States ambassador to the UN.
So why the crisis? Because playwright Lee Kalcheim is laying out a joint case study of underachieving Mel and overachieving ''Okie.'' Mel has pursued several careers and is currently drawing a cartoon feature for the Village Voice. The serenity he had hoped to find in the clear air and unpolluted greenery of Vermont has eluded him. Even his newly acquired dog won't come in out of the woods. ''Okie'' has attempted suicide under the pressure to exceed his mounting success. Self-destruction is still very much on his mind.
Will a lifeline of affection, humor, and shared memories be enough to rescue ''Okie'' from his depression? In the context of a Kalcheim comedy, the question is not whether, but how, the two old buddies will resolve matters. The question is answered in a talky yet taut conversation piece, a serio-comic study of two men threatened, each in his own way, with a mid-life crisis. The author's source materials this time out are two contemporary neurotic types: New York Jewish and upwardly mobile WASP.
Mel numbers among his talents the skills of a gourmet cook. After a small dinner party, he notices that one of the guests ''didn't finish her fish.'' ''Okie'' is the all-American hero whose impedimenta of success, including a Mercedes, haven't brought him happiness.
For all its verbal roughhouse, wild comic flights, and passing melodramatic touches, the binding glue of ''Friends'' is its genuine concern for the dilemmas of the human condition. Its climax is powerfully moving. Under Barnet Kellman's direction, Silver and Nelson deliver two finely contrasted performances - Mr. Silver's mercurial Mel the quintessential displaced New Yorker; Mr. Nelson's ''Okie'' the striver who needs something more than even a near-fatal car crash to restore his perspective on life.
David Jenkins has designed the kind of picturesque log cabin that wistful urbanites dream must be waiting for them somewhere in Vermont. Ian Calderon's lighting enhances its hospitable atmosphere and Patricia McGourty's costumes suggest Brooks Brothers in the greenery. Eric Rissler Thayer's sound design features the dulcet night song of a thousand friendly crickets.