Theater Review - Betrayal (NY)

I was never fond of Harold Pinter’s play “Betrayal”; it was always a little too grim and stiff for my taste. But I am thrilled with the present very juicy production. Directed with an understanding of human nature by Mike Nichols, an extraordinary interpreter, and acted brilliantly by a trio of winning conjurers: slickly handsome Daniel Craig, pristinely beautiful Rachel Weisz, and charmer Rafe Spall, this is a merry romp of morals that digs under the skin.

For one and one half hours without intermission or breath, on Ian McNeil’s exquisite set we follow the affairs of Robert, Emma and Jerry in nine scenes that unfold backwards.  It is a stunt that works.  We find out the ending in the first scene that takes place in 1977, when Emma and Jerry, former lovers, meet purposefully in a Pub. They had actually carried on a passionate liaison for seven years, going so far as to renting a flat in which to meet. All along they were thinking Emma’s husband, Robert, and Jerry’s wife, Judith, did not know! Both are parents and there is some question of whose is whose.  Charlotte seems to be the product of Emma and Jerry, while Emma assures Robert that their newest baby boy was conceived with him when Jerry was on a business trip for two months to NY.

Turns out, Robert knew for 4 of those years and still remained a steadfast friend to Jerry, whom he admits he loves more than his own wife.  What’s so funny is that Emma is furious because Robert has just admitted to her that he has had many affairs throughout their married life.  Obviously what has been good for the gander is not good for the goose.

There is much talk and inside jokes about books—Robert is a publisher and Jerry is an author’s agent—and there’s lots of drinking.  I think that the luscious red and gold Scene 5, 1973, which takes place in Venice, is the most fully realized; it is here that Emma is found out, her secret uncovered by Robert from a letter written by Jerry to her.  The pain that both of them experience during those moments of discovery is palpable. It is never quite clear what prompts Emma to continue the affair, although she is finally the one to end it.

Designer MacNeil has brought a sense of architecture to each scene, with a framework dropping from above to encompass each scene. Brian McDevitt’s lighting creates mood and ambiance. Ann Roth’s costume design particularly for Ms. Weisz, is elegant. James Murphy’s original music is effective.  

“Betrayal”–a slice of life from the 1970s and maybe as up-to-date as today- at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

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