Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Betrayal"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Carl A. Rossi


by Harold Pinter

directed by Scott Edmiston

Emma … Anne Gottlieb
Jerry … Joe Pacheco
Robert … Jason Asprey
A Waiter … Gregory Stuart

BETRAYAL, Harold Pinter’s teasing, rueful comedy of manners, has been given a lovely production courtesy of The Nora Theatre Company --- brilliantly designed, lighted and sounded; carefully directed; nicely acted. I urge you to see it while it’s here.

Mr. Pinter runs his play backwards, like a strip of film, beginning with two Londoners, Jerry and Emma, two years after ending their seven-year affair. Emma is married to Robert, who is Jerry’s best friend (Jerry was the best man at their wedding). Jerry is a literary agent, Robert is a publisher, Emma runs an art gallery. Emma, who is now seeing another man (a client of Jerry’s), plans to separate from Robert after learning the night before that he has been equally unfaithful to her for years; she, in turn, has told him of her affair with Jerry. Later that day, Jerry has Robert over for a drink (he, too, is married) and learns that Emma had indeed told Robert of their affair --- but she told him four years ago. BETRAYAL then moves further and further into the past, with all of its unfolding emotions, thoughts and feelings closing up like buds again, until it comes to rest nine years earlier, with an intoxicated and infatuated Jerry baring his heart to Emma, the new wife of his best friend, Robert. Many layers, many betrayals.

Performing a Pinter play is tricky stuff: every word, every pause, every silence floats up to the surface from fathomless depths below --- director and actors (even critics and audiences) must fill in the emotions, the motives, even the characters themselves. Scott Edmiston is a good director --- his actors have their accents down pat and their bodies correctly implode; the Ape is held in check by the Angel. Is Mr. Edmiston’s production “British”? Answer: it is “British” enough --- the depths are, by and large, left unplumbed; still, it is a pleasure in and of itself to hear Mr. Edmiston’s conducting of this cool, cerebral score.

Anne Gottlieb is, as always, handsome to gaze upon; her brooding yet passionate Emma is wine sipped before the fire as the snow rages outside. Joe Pacheco is a pleasing light comedian; Jerry’s utterances land catlike on their feet. To watch them perform together is to watch Schnitzler’s REIGEN, but with two people who are different each time: to continue the wine motif, Ms. Gottlieb’s Emma starts off as the sediment at the bottom of the bottle and finishes, in unforgettable red, as the unplucked grape; Mr. Pacheco begins as flat champagne and is positively fizzy at play’s end. (They are also subtly adept at turning back the clock.) Jason Asprey plays Robert as a total shit, which is too bad; if you look at the script, Robert’s dialogue is just as playful as Jerry’s --- there is a pleasing ambiguity about the two men’s friendship. Mr. Asprey’s portrayal works, of course, even though it does make Robert the sneering villain for the evening. (Back in 2001, the actor who played Deeley in Theatre Cooperative’s production of Mr. Pinter’s OLD TIMES went the same route.) Gregory Stuart, another handsome actor, makes a suave Waiter (his head shot in the lobby doesn’t do him justice).

I said “brilliantly designed, lighted and sounded” --- and BETRAYAL has been by (respectively) Janie Howland, Karen Perlow and Dewey Dellay. Ms. Howland has designed one of those tomblike sets (as in last year’s THE HOUSE OF YES and INFESTATION), snowy-white, all angles and doors, with three wall hangings that glow into significance for the final tableau. Downstage left, as part of the proscenium, is a simulation of a film strip. A scene ends, Ms. Perlow’s lights flash and fade to brown, then black. Flashed upon the film strip is the year of the next scene, along with a key line to set the mood. Ms. Dellay’s reflective piano music effectively cools the audience’s blood and prepares them for another step back into the past. The dialogue may be Pinteresque, but the total effect is brilliantly Brechtian, lending credence to the Ogden Nash lyric, “Time is so old, and love so brief. Love is pure gold, and Time a thief”. That lyric comes from ONE TOUCH OF VENUS and is sung by the Goddess of Love herself --- and she oughta know.

I would love to see Ms. Gottlieb and Mr. Pacheco continue their time travels towards a production of OLD TIMES --- in the future, of course.

"Betrayal" (7-30 March)
Boston Playwrights’ Theatre
949 Commonwealth Avenue, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 491-2026

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