BETRAYAL by Harold Pinter
Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
Harold Pinter’s BETRAYAL is presently being performed by the Off Broadway West Theatre Company.
At the onset, this complex play appears to be aiming at a precise definition of a seemingly simple word like betrayal; in the end it seems to have diffused the word into a vaporous hollow abstraction.
Jerry betrays his best friend and publishing associate, Robert, by snaking Robert’s wife Emma.
For five years Jerry and Emma conduct assignations in a cozy love flat not far from where they work … imagine eating a late afternoon lunch, with wine, perhaps a little dessert and then going home to their respective families … duplicitous almost to the point of schizoid.
When Robert married Emma, Jerry served as his best man.
Not long after the bouquet had withered and the garter had faded on the rear view mirror, Jerry ambushes Emma in her upstairs bathroom; he professes his adoration and adulterous love for her and plants the first kiss and the first brick in the road to infidelity.
After the affair begins to feel like a second year Birkenstock, the publishing business calls Jerry to New York leaving Emma alone with Robert.
In Jerry’s absence, Emma compromises her romantic integrity and makes love with her own husband; naturally she finds herself pregnant and has to explain to her returning Lothario that it’s okay; she was essentially faithful to him, after all, it was her own husband.
As C.S. Lewis once said, “Once you let go of reality, the possibilities are endless.”
Once the subterfuges, circumlocutions and prevarications get started, the three vertices of the love triangle are no longer communicating, they are collaborating on a script.
Jerry, as played to the Klieg lintels by Brian O’Connor, is an absolute rascal, a regular Paolo Malatesta; seducing with literary pretentions and pulp fiction in hand; you wouldn’t trust Jerry at a petting zoo let alone with your wife; what was Robert thinking?
Emma is an enigma: an attractive woman with options whose healthy sense of entitlement assures her that good wine, good food and frequent trips to Italy are just not sufficient.
Director Richard Harder perhaps does his best work with Emma, who is finely played by Sylvia Kratins.
Kratins’ Emma never sits still; her restless spirit keeps her head on a swivel, her eyes spinning like a rotifer and limbs in constant motion trying to get comfortable in the here in now while her mind is occupied elsewhere; is she Lady Macbeth or Madame Bovary?
Lighting is another creative strength of the show; low intensity illumination provides the audience with a keyhole feel: an intimate sense that we are eavesdropping on conversations; much in vogue these days given the liberties the NSA has taking with our liberties.
Keith Burkland as Robert is the axel about which the play revolves on.
Burkland’s Robert is opaque: a mystery shrouded in a reservation.
Is Robert mistakenly trusting Jerry and Emma or is he disinterested to the extent that he is willing to time share little Miss Francesca di Rimini?
Burkland is both an artist and a craftsman; polishing and burnishing his character until you can almost feel the tweed; acting is not what he does, it is who he is.
BETRAYAL is the best of Pinter and Richard Harder elevates it a step higher.
If you enjoy intimate theater where acting is an art, you don’t want to miss BETRAYAL at the Phoenix at Mason and Geary.
Call 1-800-838-3006 or www.offbroadwaywest.org.