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A CurtainUp BerkshireReview
By Elyse Sommer
Harold Pinter's cryptic history of an extra-curricular marital relationship is a particularly apt choice for introducing Shakespeare &Company audiences to the playwright's work. Just think about it. Here is a contemporary story of three married people's tangled feelings and moral choices played out in the living room where novelist Edith Wharton grappled with her own marital difficulties and extra-marital relationship with another man. The drama unfolds in the same venue where this relationship was explored in one of the company's Wharton-related plays, Fiery Rain with Allyn Burrows, the Other Man of Betrayal as Morton Fullerton, the Other Man in Wharton's life.
The parallel aside, Betrayal is also a wonderful introduction to Pinter's innovative method of developing a play by dramatizing the behavior of his characters in such a way that the audience must patch together the full story and decide for themselves which character, if any, should have their allegiance. This requires good listening skills for Pinter's characters speak a dialogue filled with pauses that are often more meaningful than the spoken words.
Having seen most of the actors who've been with the company over the years, Normi Noel warrants an A+ rating for her choice of the three main players. Allyn Burrows and Corinna May are perfectly cast as the lovers, Emma and Jerry; as is Dan McCleary as the most complicated member of the marital triangle, Emma's husband and Jerry's best friend.
For those who haven't seen previous versions of the play or the movie, (which in spite of Jeremy Irons and Ben Kingsley didn't live up to the original script), what it's about, in a nutshell, is this: Emma, married to Robert has had a 7-year long affair with Jerry. Robert and Jerry are best friends and business colleagues, Jerry being a literary agent and Robert a publisher. Jerry's wife Judith, while never on stage, is an important fourth character, as is Casey a writer whom Jerry represents.
Simple enough, right? Wrong. With Pinter nothing is ever what it seems. These relationships are highly complex as is the playwright's method for reconstructing the tangled web of betrayal with 9 fast-moving scenes that hopscotch from two years after the end of the affair to various non-chronological highlights and eventually its beginning.
Actually, the reconstruction of the affair, is really a deconstruction of the relationship between Emma and Robert and between Robert and Jerry and, if you dig down into the emotional truths buried in the pinteresque language, you'll see it all as a dramatized metaphor for Pinter's vision of a culture in which people cannot connect in a direct, straightforward manner.
While the play relies on dialogue more than action, the tempo is swift throughout and typical of all Shakespeare & Co. productions the set is strictly bare bones --a table and a few chairs at one side of the room and a couch on a raised platform at the other serve to suggest various restaurants, Emma and Robert's home and Jerry's flat. This leaves everything on the actors' shoulders, a burden which May, Burrows and McClearly manage with aplomb. McCleary's Robert is particularly impressive in conveying the darkness that makes him the sort of man who's not above hitting his wife. Does this automatically shift the audience's sympathy to the lovers? Not quite. Burrows' Jerry is charming yet very much old school boy smug about considering anything beyond an affair impossible, as impossible as a very probable indiscretion by his wife. This leaves the pendulum of sympathy swinging to Emma but as portrayed by May, she too has her darker side.
Betrayal is a play that will leave you with plenty of food for thought. Yet, for all its examination of moral issues, it's highly entertaining. As someone who's spent the better part of her career in the publishing business, I particular enjoyed the authentic bits of insider talk. Not that you have to be an insider to enjoy the scene when Jerry and Robert are lunching and Robert literally explodes into a rant about how he hates publishing the new kinds of authors that Jerry has a knack for discovering and nurturing to success. Equally outstanding was the scene in which Emma is reading a book by one of Jerry's authors who Robert refused to publish, (and who is probably her lover after the Jerry affair) --with the book serving as the cap left off the toothpaste that often serves as the trigger to bring festering marital sores to a boil.
The play runs 1 and 3/4 hours including one intermission. Unlike the Pinter pauses, this is strictly a pause that refreshes since, like all plays held in the Wharton Parlor, it means a pleasant move to the room next door for tea, lemonade and cookies.