The second leg of 4615 Theatre Company’s “Summer of Scandal” repertory, Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, opened this past weekend at the Dance Loft on 14th. My review of the other play, Enron, is here.
Is it fair to evaluate Betrayal alongside Enron? One is a searing docudrama indictment of American capitalism, the other a semi-autobiographical play about an extramarital affair. One is a multimedia tour de force with a large cast, the other a dialogue-driven three-hander. One is a loud, brash, raucous epic, the other a comparatively intimate chamber piece. Betrayal is by no means slighter, but it does get a bit outshined. But is it at fault simply because Enron has velociraptors wearing neckties and Betrayal… doesn’t?
Betrayal is one of Pinter’s most commercially successful and frequently performed plays. It’s probably his most accessible, a deliberate stab at mainstream success. I’m still not convinced it’s his greatest play, but this production makes me rate it higher than I have heretofore. I noticed a lot of things I hadn’t in past productions by Major Regional Theatres, even subtle things like how many times Jerry and Emma say “I remember” in the opening scene. This also may be a testament to how some plays are better suited for intimate settings like the Dance Loft.
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Stevie Zimmerman directs with acute perception and sensitivity, and the actors’ performances are imbued with these qualities as well. She spots the tiny yet explosive moments buried in the dialogue, and the trio of actors nails them. They effectively communicate the time and place without indicating; no small feat in a play told chronologically backwards (as do Kiana Vincenty’s costumes which effectively navigate the shifting fashions of the era without going overboard into 70’s kitsch. The trio provide a useful object lesson for actors about how to use active silence, though maaaaybe once in a while they lapse into fetishizing Pinter Pauses. There was no credited dialect coach; one would have been a sound investment.
As Emma, Caroline Dubberly delivers a sharply realized portrait of a character that is written as a bit of a cipher – note the final/earliest scene, in which Jerry professes his love for her, when Emma has nothing to say back. She’s robbed of agency, reduced to an object to be pursued and captured – some of the elements of this play have not aged well over the past forty years. It’s as if she engages in a seven year affair with Jerry for no better reason is that Jerry really really wants her to. For Dubberly to make her so compelling in the face of these odds is a significant achievement.
Matt Dewberry’s Jerry is played with vulnerability and openness, particularly in his confession of love. He has an appealingly unforced earnestness that makes his relationship with Emma believable.
Jared H. Graham, as Robert, well, the script doesn’t do him any favors. He openly admits to hitting Emma, he comes off as a sexist twit in his defense of the all-male squash club. Robert’s… well, he’s rather a prick, isn’t he? Graham, to his credit, embraces his character’s prickishness head-on. Do consider that this is an semi-autobiographical play, and of the two men, guess which character Pinter based himself on. (Hint: not the prick.)
Betrayal closes September 8, 2019. Details and tickets
This is a thoroughly solid production, meritorious of its four stars, but the nagging question remains: Why This Play And Why Now? Does the world need another “Affluent White People Talking” play by a Dead White Guy, albeit one of the greatest hits of one of the 20th century’s greatest playwrights? In 2019, is “because it’s a good play and 4615 does it very well” or “it pairs with our other show” or “our director really wanted to do it” or “because it’s currently being revived on Broadway” a sufficiently compelling reason?
It’s a fair question as Enron is such a vital, relevant production with a diverse and inclusive ensemble, and the contrast in style and content makes Betrayal feel like a bit of a relic. Maybe it’s the lack of velociraptors. But because it’s more than worth seeing, the debate of whether it’s worth doing is perhaps best suited for the post-show drink or the drive home.
Betrayal by Harold Pinter, directed by Stevie Zimmerman. Cast: Matt Dewberry (Jerry), Caroline Dubberly (Emma), Jared H Graham (Robert). Costume Design: Kiana Vincenty. Scenic Design: Kathryn Kawecki. Lighting Design: Jon Medley. Sound Design: Jordan Friend. Intimacy/Fight Choreography: Jonathan Ezra Rubin. Asst Stage Manager: Madeline Sperber-Whyte. Stage Manager: Abigail Wasserman. Produced by 4615 Theatre Company. Review by John Geoffrion.