Harold Pinter’s Twisted Love Story: Another Country’s “Betrayal”

by Bryce Lambert on June 1, 2010

Well, I’m going to have to agree all around with The Hub Review on Another Country’s production of Harold Pinter’s somewhat autobiographical Betrayal, so forgive any apparent plagiarism. I won’t dig too deep into plot summary, since if you don’t know it you might as well get over to the BCA before the 5th or watch the excellent 1983 film adaptation, but, for the sake of discussion, the play tells the story of an affair (or a love story, depending on how you look at it). Starting in 1977, when two best friends and the woman they’ve shared finally put all their cards on the table, acknowledging their infidelity (or knowledge of it), and moving in reverse to a 1968 party, where the affair begins.

Jerry (Robert Kropf) and Robert (Wayne Fritsche) are best friends, Robert’s married to Emma (Lyralen Kaye), Jerry and Emma have an affair. The three vertices of this triangle (shall we say E, J, R) are the only essential characters to the play, which play hops through a Venice hotel room, a London Italian restaurant, various houses, and one quaint love nest. Director Gail Phaneuf and set designer Dahlia L’Habielli have economically set it in one location that doesn’t appear in the text at all–a contemporary art gallery (realistic enough that it could’ve fooled me) that we can presume to be the ho-that-comes-before bro’s, Emma. A wise use of one of the BCA’s tight rehearsal halls, but it neglects what I’d consider to be a pivotal set–Jerry and Emma’s safehouse flat, where they meet for lunchtime quickies.

Their rental of the apartment signals the consummation of their relationship (since we have little else to go on) and their eventual liquidation of it is a quite literal metaphor the the termination of the affair. More importantly, it gives Jerry and Emma a home, with a bed they bought together, a kitchen where Emma cooks Jerry’s favorite things, a table on which lays Emma’s Venetian tablecloth (a souvenir from a rather intense holiday in Venice with her husband.) Despite all the emotion Pinter is able to evacuate from his character’s dialogue and interactions, depriving us of even pedestrian histrionics, (substituting them with his trademark layered intensity and verbal power plays), this is as much a love story, perhaps two, as it is one of betrayal. And the flat serves to, somehow, validate Jerry and Emma’s affair. If their rendezvous had taken place in locked offices and hotel rooms, rather than this surrogate home, it’s doubtful it would seem like love at all. The flat and its furnishings are the only physical objects Pinter inserts into his dialogue, other than a book or two, so we can’t deny its importance.

Another Country Productions Betrayal

Wayne Fritsche (as Robert) & Lyralen Kaye (as Emma)

But, then the production’s art gallery setting allows for more trivial, but fun, metaphors. One of those giant bouncy balls serves as a centerpiece of the gallery’s exhibition and is tossed back and forth by Robert and Jerry, two men who happen to like squash a lot. And doesn’t listening to Pinter sometimes feel like a slow-motion squash match; characters hitting a ball back and forth trying to score? Sound designer/director Gail Phaneuf (I’m not surprised at the double role here) gave the text a keen update with some contemporary music. I liked the overall effect, but wasn’t sure about some of her selections (not that I’m hip enough to be able to recognize them).

Wayne Fritsche (Robert) gave probably the strongest performance through the play’s toughest passages, but (again, I’m agreeing with The Hub Review here) lacked the almost violent intensity of, say, Ben Kingsley in the film. But that’s not really a fair standard is it? I’m not sure why Another Country insisted on the Meisner technique, where on-the-spot improvisatory spontaneity between actors is favored over an actor’s interior development of his character, here, but it doesn’t really work. Why try and void the unnatural level of internalization that’s so essential to Pinter and focus on character dynamics that are intentionally dishonest, apathetic, and evacuated? The play’s a nice quick dose of Pinter and the production’s a timely evening for theater-goers whose subscriptions have come to an end, but Another Country seems to have been a little firm with their branding iron on the text.

Another Country Productions presents Harold Pinter’s Betrayal through June 5th @ the BCA. Tickets: $27-$35 through BostonTheatreScene.com.

Another Country Productions Betrayal

Robert Kropf (as Jerry) & Lyralen Kaye (as Emma)

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