Admittedly, the topic of infidelity and adultery are at the very bottom of my like list. There’s no baggage there (you don’t need to read into that statement), there’s no logical reason really for my overly negative feelings toward these topics, I’ve just never found them appealing. With the possible exception of Moliere, it’s hard for me to find anything entertaining in a production (theatre, film or TV) that has cheating on one’s lover as the main focus. You can imagine how a show called Betrayal about just such an act, might be a tad off-putting for me. But, like any good piece of theatre and any good production, surprises are lurking in the pregnant silences, the furtive glances, the slow blinks and in the beads of sweat on the lips of people who lie. At Only Connect’s Betrayal, my expectations were totally hijacked and I found myself examining my own prejudices, not an easy feat and one that had exciting results. Well, played Betrayal. Well. Played.
The Playwright Harold Pinter has a distinct voice. Very distinct. Like Beckett, Mamet and Shepard distinct. If you studied theatre you know and mostly understand (or certainly pretend to) his severe, abrupt, sparse cadence. If you didn’t major in theatre, it’s possible you may have never run into his theatre pieces in America. This play is a good introduction to Pinter and an equally good production for those acquainted with (and perhaps even a fan of) his typical of sharp, dark, dry style.
Largely autobiographical this piece of Pinter’s is part analysis of a relationship, part explanation of how things come to be, and maybe, just maybe a tiny bit of regret and apology. That last part might be controversial or way off base, or both, but it’s what I find most interesting about this piece. Pinter can flip your allegiances and he can have you questioning your morals if you let him. How much of this story is guilt or blame, excuse or seeking validation, how much of it is a timeline of cause and effect? How much of this very human, and not extraordinarily unique story, is scientific analysis of behavior and how much of it is raw and deeply demonstrative?
As you might have deduced, this is a thinking play. You need to pay attention and you’ll want to. Compellingly written, directed with a fine sense of detail, and acted convincingly, you shouldn’t have any trouble doing so, but come with an attention span and an open mind. This play is also going to spur dialogue. Lots of it. Bring friends, pick your post-show discussion location in advance. Have opinions, have feelings, have disagreements, have dialogue. This is not black and white and you’ll benefit from exploring it after the fact.
As a director you have the choice to throw out the stage directions and spin your own interpretation on the words or take the stage directions (as well as the punctuation) literally. Pinter was specific in his writing. Detailed in his direction. Specific in his vision. And, to make it even more complicated, British. To “do” Pinter is more often than not, doing it by the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law with regard to the script. That being said, there’s a lot of work for the director and the actors to fill in the gaps and discover the copious amount of unexplained/unwritten subtext and make sense of it all (or at the very least, not completely lose the audience.) Check and check. Though I firmly believe this is a play where new discoveries can be made even after the last performance, the pieces were there that needed to be opening night.
The director and actors clearly understood the characters and added in the necessary layers required to bond the audience to the story. I don’t think it matters of you like this story or these characters, I don’t think you are meant to necessarily, but there is something captivating about seeing the journey through to the end/the beginning, depending on how you look at it. It’s one of those slices of life plays where closure is scarce and it doesn’t technically “go” anywhere, but it has a beginning, middle and end somehow. In that way it’s clever and different.
The look of this play is true to the text as well. The vintage 70’s clothing, scene transition music and especially the hair (love the sideburns, man), really helped set the scene. Accents were spot on. Save for a couple of moments that seemed awkwardly restrained vocally yet more melodramatic physically in the emotional climaxes of the play, and a single missing costume change that may have simply been an error rather than a choice, there really wasn’t anything off about this production.
There is an audience for this thick little piece. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I was certainly a tough audience going in and a real fan coming out. 4 1/2 jewels out of 5 in the review tiara for a layered, thorough presentation of a play that tests your brain and then some. Betrayal plays at the Dragon Theatre in Palo Alto in through July 28th.