Who’s afraid of
By Alicia Anstead
Harold Pinter drama exposes marital mazes
“Brevoort’s production captures
much of the elegant convolution and confusion of this play [and is]
provocative on a number of levels”
The plot of “Betrayal,” now running at
Penobscot Theatre, is simple enough. Robert and Jerry are best friends.
Robert and Emma are married. Jerry and Emma are lovers. The question of
who is the betrayer and who is the betrayee are not, however, so simple
to answer. This is, after all, Harold Pinter, the master of the minimal.
So while the plot is sparse, the internal life of this play is anything
“Betrayal” is among Pinter’s most
popular stage plays — as much for its theme as for the device of taking
place in reverse chronological order. The play opens two years after
Jerry and Emma have broken off a seven-year affair and, from there,
takes baby steps forward and giant steps backward through nine years of
elusive emotional mazes. It’s an artful analysis of the way marital
infidelity spreads its tentacles over these cerebral Londoners.
First produced in the 1970s, the play is
based on Pinter’s own extramarital activities. But the issues move
beyond autobiography and find a place in the world of sophisticated
modern lives. Jerry is a literary agent, Robert a book publisher and
Emma runs an art gallery. They all drink. A lot. Their interactions
have, as a backdrop, discussions of novels and poetry, travels to Venice
and America, and the children they each have with their respective
spouses. It’s anti-romance, soap opera and sublimated sex comedy all
rolled into one.
New York-based Gregg W. Brevoort, guest
director at Penobscot Theatre, crafts a production that does not back
away from the questions the play raises and knows better than to answer
them. Brevoort is interested primarily in the journeys of all three of
the characters and never pushes the plot toward indicting any one or two
players as the responsible party. They are all complicit, Brevoort
asserts. More than that, however, they all love each other. It’s a
stunning and decentering conclusion.
If you see the play as centrally about
Jerry and Robert, whose commitment to each other is greater than either
of their individual relationships to Emma, then Brevoort’s viewpoint may
seem as flat as the white-wine hues that creamily bathe this production.
Yet, at the end when we witness the exact origin of the affair it seems
as plaintive as the Chopin and Scarlatti scores that play in the
background. Brevoort’s production captures much of the elegant
convolution and confusion of this play.
This production is provocative on a
number of other levels. The cast, for instance, honors Brevoort’s take
by working as a solid ensemble. Sometimes the actors overplay the anger
in a scene and their British accents sound slightly as if they have
provenance in New Jersey. But Patrick Dizney (Jerry), Rita Rehn (Emma)
and David Sitler (Robert) offer insight into the embroiled complexities
of crisscrossing relationships.
Putnam Smith also makes a fine
appearance as a waiter. No small role is played by Gabriella D’Italia’s
beige and black costumes, Lynne Chase’s penetrating lights and Matthew
Myhrum’s moveable sets.
Still, it’s the three primary characters
whose journey Brevoort wants us on, and they slip into the heart of this
play by mingling in the mysterious company of menace and menage.
Some may find the action of the play too
slow but that’s signature Pinter. In theater parlance, “pinteresque”
practically means pregnant pause. So the silences are not meant to be
affected but affecting. The style has often been compared to music, in
which rests carry as much imaginative potential as the notes themselves.
At the beginning of the play, Emma has
just discovered that her husband has been having affairs, too. She
returns to her old lover for consolation and connection. “It’s nice,
sometimes, to think back. Isn’t it?” Emma asks Jerry. The poet T. S.
Eliot put it another way. He wrote that through exploration of our lives
we will “arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
Penobscot Theatre’s “Betrayal” takes us back to where it all started,
puts us on the journey of hindsight, and let’s us peer into that
unexpected and shattering first time.
Penobscot Theatre will present
“Betrayal” through April 21 at 183 Main St. in Bangor. For tickets and
information, call 942-3333.