The Nora Theatre's Betrayal is a stylish production that beautifully echoes and compliments Harold Pinter's terse writing. Designer Janie Howland's stark white stage, framed by two interlocking partial walls and punctuated by three doors, perfectly sums up this story of three interconnected lives.
Events unfold with a meeting between Emma (Anne Gottlieb) and Jerry (Joe Pacheco), alone in a pub for the first time since ending their long-term affair. Emma has only just learned that her husband Robert (Jason Asprey) has been betraying her for years with other women. The unsettling bit of the news for Jerry, however, is her admission that she countered by telling her husband everything about their seven-year adulterous relationship.
Jerry suffers an unsettling 24 hours until his own hastily arranged meeting with Robert the next night, only to discover that his best friend first learned of the affair four years earlier. Pinter then rolls back the years, giving us snapshots from the lives of these three people, ending with Jerry's first drunken declaration to Emma back in 1993.
The details of the production are minimal and mostly right on target. Lighting designer Karen Perlow bathes the lovers in afternoon sun peeking through the blinds of their lover's hideaway and then sets them apart in distinct pools of light when Jerry drops in to visit Robert at home. The original music by Dewey Dellay is as delicate and perfect as the lace tablecloth Emma buys for their secret flat while vacationing in Venice with her husband.
But this kind of perfection makes the few lapses all the more jarring. The gradual and inconsistent introduction of color into the initially all black costuming is odd. Sticking to a neutral palette as we go further back in time and ending up with mostly white might be appropriate given that Jerry says to Emma in the earliest scene, "I should have blackened you, in your white wedding dress."
And while this is a story of equal culpability for the various betrayals in a love affair, a friendship and a marriage, Asprey doesn't make Robert an equal player. He's not as sure handed as the other two actors, rushing a scene where he must consume nearly a whole bottle of wine before he gets to the point in the script where he orders another one.
A bit of difficulty with a recalcitrant cork in one of the wine bottles at the performance I saw only served to illustrate just how precisely this play is written. Both the words and the emotional actions are so sparse that it's virtually impossible to improvise Pinter dialogue let alone a Pinter pause.
In fact, every moment was so carefully considered in the writing, Pinter was able to make the astonishing claim to Mel Gussow, shortly before the 1979 Broadway premiere, that in rehearsals for the original London production his rewriting consisted of cutting the word 'please,' taking out one pause and inserting another.
What's equally astonishing, however, is to look back at pictures of those two productions and be reminded of how naturalistic the design was. The vision of Edmiston and his design team here seems so much more appropriate, it's hard to imagine Betrayal done any other way.
Betrayal at Boston Playwrights Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Avenue (at Boston University) now through March 30th. Performances: Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3:00pm. All tickets are priced at $25 with the performance on March 12th designated as pay what you can. For tickets and further information call the Nora Box Office at 617-491-2026. Tickets can also be purchased at Ticketmaster outlets and the Bostix booths in Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Copley Square or by calling Ticketmaster PhoneCharge at 617-931-2000.
Special Events: There are wine tastings after the show in the green room on Wednesday evenings and post-performance discussions on Sundays, March 16th and 23rd
Photo by Rob Amory