By Harold Pinter.
Directed by Lauren Shouse.
At Raven Theatre, Chicago.
Self-deception and hidden emotions fuels Pinter’s drama.
Harold Pinter aficionados will enjoy Harold Pinter’s Betrayal. It is based on Pinter’s actual betrayal of his wife and it subtly condones such conduct by married folks. My problem with Betrayal lies in the coldness of the three betrayers who react to the multiple betrayals with hidden emotions and self-absorbed and self-deception. These folks are simply too ‘civil’ toward one another.
This 75 minute one -act uses reverse chronology by starting out at the end of the betrayal and going bad in time toward how it all began. Pinter wants to explore the difficulty in maintaining honest relationships with out mates. Loyalty and commitment to family never occurs to these narcissistic heavy drinking intellectuals. Betrayal is a wordy and a tad too redundant as Pinter’s repetitive dialogue hints at how much these characters try to rationalize their behavior. The indirectness of the words masks the pain, doubt and rage inherent in a story of marital betrayal.
The play takes place in reverse order, ending in 1977, sort of Pinter’s statement that the outcome of cheating is predestined to be known. We see three upper middle class arts intellectuals closely intertwined both in professional and personal relationships. Jerry (Dam Guinan-Nyhart) is a literary agent, Robert (Keith Neagle) is a publisher—both are close friends and colleagues. Robert is married to Emma (Abigail Boucher) but Jerry has had an affair with her for years. Jerry is married also; both men have two children.
The story is told in reverse order which doesn’t work for me since we know the outcome from the awkward opening scene. The sense of time going backward is not clearly apparent in this productiom. Better the back story be worth retelling but as it unfolds, it only plays out in a predictable way. The cheating relationship by Jerry and Emma grows just as sour as being wed to each other. The thrill of the extramarital sex wears thin over time. And the revelation that Robert actually knew about the affair yet did nothing for years demonstrates his character. It seems everyone fears of being caught and being betrayed and their lack of guilt speaks to their coldness and shallow ethics. Robert’s misogynistic speech about why men play squash reveals his attitudes. Filled with ascorbic humor and subtle indirect language, Pinter hints at the pain each experience through their betrayal. None seem to exhibit remorse.
What ultimately makes this work resonate is the strong acting. Betrayal is an ‘actor’s play’ in that the nuances and hidden emotions must spark the potential chemistry between Emma and Jerry with Robert’s arrogant acceptance of Emma’s betrayal with acting out against her or Jerry (his best friend) plausible. Boucher, Guinan-Nyhart and Neagle exhibit the hidden emotions, the coldness and the lack of guilt marvelously. We buy their reactions, their lust and their ‘civility’ toward one another. This cast sure did yeoman work here.
At Raven Theatre’s West Stage, 6157 N. Clark, Chicago, IL, call 773-338-2177, www.raventheatre.com, tickets $43-$46, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3:30 pm, running time is 75 minutes without intermission.