note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
Allen Moyer‘s splendid set and Philip S. Rosenberg’s striking stage effects arouse theatergoers’ admiration, captivating attention throughout Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter’s one-act drama of adulterous diminishing returns, “Betrayal,” currently appearing with the Huntington Theatre Company through Dec. 9.
Nine scenes shift backward in time, from 1977 to 1968, opening with a blackened stage and large white letters, announcing the time and place. Suddenly, the darkness funnels down, square-shaped or boxlike, disappearing altogether, revealing a brightly-lit, finely decorated stage.
With tongue-in-cheek, British drollery and understatement, Pinter rolls his action in reverse, unfurling an upper class love triangle. Lovely Emma (Gretchen Egolf) and her husband Robert’s (Mark H. Dold) longest, best friend and Best Man at their wedding, slick-talking book agent, Jerry, (Alan Cox) are reminiscing in a pub two years later, about their torrid, seven-year affair that burned itself out. The two speak guardedly, civilly, exchanging stilted small talk. Emma announces she and Robert are separating, while the remorseless Jerry drinks it all in, matter-of-factly, smugly knowing his marriage to Judith is preserved.
Each new scene is announced by those large white titles on the blackened stage background, pierced with John Gromada’s poignant musical interlude, then opening to a different site: Robert and Emma’s house; back and forth to Emma and Jerry’s hideaway love nest in the country; Robert and Emma’s luxurious hotel room in Venice, Italy; then closing in 1968 at a New Year’s party at Robert and Emma’s house, when the overly-amorous and inebriated Jerry assails Emma, declaring he’s madly in love with her.
Emma’s appearance changes dramatically (thanks to costume designer Nancy Brennan) as the trio tiptoes through the bloom of young love and its downward spiral to middle-age, illicitness.
British Director Maria Aitken, who performed on stage in London under Pinter’s sharp eye, has firsthand knowledge helming “Betrayal”. Although Cox is deliciously despicable as the egotistical Jerry, Dold’s understated, lowkey civility at times falls flat. And Luis Negron in a brief appearance as a waiter adds a delightful dash. The prolific Pinter, renowned for his acting, writing, directing, political activism, and notorious love affairs, won the Olivier Award for “Betrayal,” loosely based on his seven-year affair (1962-9) with married journalist Joan Bakewell. Bakewell, wife of Director Michael Blackwell at the time, claims a few of the play’s incidents actually occurred.
Here’s the deal: Jerry is horrified when Emma reveals she told husband Robert about their affair four years earlier. Robert continued to carry on as usual, playing cat-and-mouse with Jerry. To save face, Robert told Emma he had extramarital affairs for years, too, which is unlikely.
As Emma and Jerry’s torrid affair winds down, it’s hinted Emma may be carrying on an affair with an unseen novelist, Casey. But we never find out.
The question is, who’s betrayed, who’s the betrayer, and who’s fooling him/herself? Is Jerry’s marriage as rock solid as he thinks, or is Judith possibly tarrying with a doctor during her night shifts at the hospital?
As theatergoers voyeuristically travel back in time and trysts, Pinter’s play is a provocative social introspection that especially resonates today, given the Gen. Petraeus-Paula Broadwell-Jill Kelley-Gen. Allen debacle. At Huntington, we have a ringside seat.
BOX INFO: One-act award-winning play by Harold Pinter, appearing with Huntington Theatre Company through Dec. 9, at The BU Theatre, Avenue of the Arts, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston. Performances are Tuesdays, Thursdays, at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Dec. 2, at 7 p.m.; matinees, Dec. 1,2,8,9, at 2 p.m. Check for related events. Single tickets start at $25; seniors, $5 discount; subscribers, BU community, $10 off; 35 years old-younger, $25; military,students, with valid IDs,$15. Visit huntingtontheatre.org or call 617-266-0800.