Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal,” which deals with the perhaps hackneyed subjects of infidelity and self-knowledge, is a study in layers. But in this production of the acclaimed play, nothing is as it first seems.
The script’s treatment of the passage of time alone is full of hidden depths; in a unique twist, rather than moving forward or even backward through a relationship history, scenes alternate between the past and the future.
While these shifts in time may have you shuffling confusedly through your program, which conveniently lists the chronology, it becomes progressively more understandable as the action unfolds.
The plot tracks seven years in the life of Emma (Gia Marotta ’06), and her romantic relationships with both her husband, Robert (Greg Serebuoh ’06), and her husband’s best friend, Jerry (Nick Baldock GRD ’09). Paul Spera ’08 rounds out the cast as a comical Italian waiter.
Director Chloe Bass ’06, along with Marotta and Serebuoh, present “Betrayal” as their senior project in theater studies. Bass noted that the structure of the play, which allows the audience to view the intertwined relationships between characters from different times and perspectives, “makes everyone equally culpable” in the participation in and concealment of their duplicitous affairs.
Although “Betrayal” can be easily construed as a misogynistic piece denouncing Emma’s actions, Bass said she believes everyone, no matter what gender, can relate to Emma’s struggle with self-deception and suppression of emotion.
Just as the script reveals more layers about the past as the play continues, the actors reveal more emotional depth and seem to become more comfortable in their roles halfway through the production.
In the first few scenes, both Marotta and Baldock reflect a rather one-dimensional emotive background, neglecting to exhibit their poignant emotional history, which the play goes on to present. In one particularly passionate moment at the end of their affair (which appears early in the play), Marotta’s Emma throws her ring of keys at Baldock, demanding he remove the key to their flat. The incredible dearth of chemistry between the two makes it seem near impossible that this pair could have lasted so long, especially in secret.
Yet this lack of affection is not a constant problem; as the play reveals the height of the affair, Marotta and Baldock not only display more feeling for each other, but the newfound range of emotions they convey makes their characters infinitely more appealing. They are transformed from superficial caricatures to people with a past, present and future.
This change is strange and a little disconcerting. The characters have more of a history at the beginning of the play than they do at the end, so it would seem more natural to display more emotional depth at the play’s start. The fact that Baldock and Marotta instead become more human as we see the earlier years of their relationship is all the more tragic, as we already know how it ends. This could be a conscious choice on the part of the actors, since both Emma and Jerry deal with loss of self-knowledge, but if so, what it accomplishes thematically it loses by sacrificing a certain sentimental authenticity.
While Marotta and Baldock’s performances take time to settle and begin to communicate their multifaceted history, Serebuoh’s inspired portrayal of Emma’s deceived-yet-devious husband, Robert, is vivid and spellbinding. From his first appearance on stage, his arms crossed, towering over the other players, he commands attention. His biting wit, joviality and good humor, even under times of duress, are a stark contrast to the less-obscured anxiety of Baldock’s Jerry.
The technical aspects of the production are subtle, so as not to detract from the drama’s clear psychological and emotional focus. The set, designed by Tory Wolcott ’06, is sparse and functional, and lighting, designed by Hajera Dehqanzada ’07, is natural and simple. Costumes by Maya Kazan ’09 add a critical sense of time and space to the script, which contains few allusions to the 1970s setting. The sound design, however, counteracts this feeling; consisting of musical interludes played during scene changes, the songs have little unity or relation to the play as a whole.
“Betrayal” expects a lot of its audience; getting beneath the layers of time and emotional density to the heart of the characters takes patience. Yet when you get there, it’s worth the wait.