The degree to which Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” resonates with any particular individual probably depends on that person’s own life experiences. For those who hold to an idealistic view of human interactions where true love conquers the worst human impulses, the thesis Pinter explores may seem hollow, if not cynical. But for anyone who has lived just a little in the real world of social experiences, Pinter’s presentation of a classic love triangle, with duplicity and deceit underlying each and every relationship, is spot-on.
What makes the play memorable, however, isn’t the story itself. Instead, it is the way the story is told. The story covers nine years in the entangled lives of two men and a woman in which the men are best friends and the woman is married to one of the men and is in an affair with the other. Sound spicy? It is, albeit, in the almost forty years that have passed since the play debuted, that storyline has become standard fare in real life, not to mention in fictional dramatizations.
But in “Betrayal,” Pinter reverses the chronological depiction of the story, so that the first scene in the play takes place at the end of the story he is telling, while the last scene shows the relationships of the three characters as their story begins. The intended effect is to make the various betrayals that each character engages in more identifiable and each character’s reactions to those betrayals more relatable. To a certain extent, the reverse chronology could be confusing (as it was when later employed in Christopher Nolan’s neo-noir movie, “Memento”). But Pinter doesn’t complicate the tale with whodunit excess. Instead, each scene reveals that lies are at the heart of all of the relationships that exist among and between the three characters. The play’s impact is thus immediate and continuous, instead of resting on its closing scene (which, of course, is the opening scene in the story).
The Capital Stage production that opened last weekend is true to both the spirit and structure of the play. As directed by Janis Stevens, the action is straightforward and the dialogue is crisp and clear. There are no mysteries in this production, which is probably what Pinter intended. Instead, the three characters are depicted and portrayed as the scoundrels each of them really are. And as more and more deceit becomes apparent, the characters – each of them – become less and less attractive. There are no heroes in this tale, only real people who manage through their own impulses and appetites to ruin each other’s (and their own) lives.
In her cast, Ms. Stevens has three pros who deliver excellent performances. Michael Patrick Wiles plays Robert, the husband, with a kind of smug nonchalance that suggests he is not one to let painful emotions get in the way of his enjoyment of life. Chad Deverman, as Jerry, is more vulnerable and more demonstrative in showing the pain that he realizes he has caused, and been caused, to suffer. And as Emma, Elena Wright shows the range of emotions that can be realized in a loving relationship that seemingly requires the dishonesty she must assume to allow herself to feel that love.
The production is also enhanced by an impressive set design (by Paul Kreutz) that uses the entire stage in depicting the different locales for the play’s nine scenes. Videos are projected between scenes (production design by Russell Dow) on screens at the back of the stage to reflect the passage of time and the different locations where the story unfolds. Other credits for this excellent production are due Ron Madonia (lighting), Gail Russell (costumes), and Ed Lee (sound and music between scenes).
“Betrayal” is not an easy play to appreciate, as it requires (or at least stimulates) no small amount of introspection. But it is not without moments of humor in the depiction of the characters as they and their relationships self-destruct. And the Capital Stage production is compelling and professional in every respect. As such, it demands attention and is highly recommended.
Performances of Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” continue at Capital Stage through February 26. Tickets and information are available at the theater box office (2215 J Street), by phone (916-995-5464) or online (capstage.org).