Master playwright Harold Pinter has left us a fistful of fascinating plays, and their highly original tales will be with us for many years to come. “The Birthday Party,” “The Homecoming” and “Old Times,” are among the lot that will be available to us in revivals.
“Betrayal” (from 1974) has arrived on Broadway from London where it enjoyed a successful run with the same cast that’s appearing now at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre. The actors are Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton, and Charlie Cox — three excellent players with solid acting backgrounds on stage and film. There is a fourth, Eddie Arnold, who plays a very small role as the Waiter; and even he joins the three stalwarts who carry the play proving once again “there are no small parts” in theater. They are all providing us with smashingly accurate characterizations.
The three principals have their work cut out for them. As book publisher Robert, Tom Hiddleston is the center of a triangle involving his wife Emma and his best friend, Jerry, who is a literary agent. Emma has had a long affair with Jerry, and the play takes us back in nine short scenes from the Spring of 1977 to the Winter of 1968 when they first met. As each scene unfolds, we learn what happened to the three of them in the nine years covered.
By the time he had written this play, Mr. Pinter had fallen in love with the word “pause”; and there is more use of that word in the printed text of the play than the use of any other. The playwright’s voice is unquestionably British, and his keen ear makes his dialogue revealing on many levels. These are people of wit, eloquence and the very British ability to hide the most elemental emotions deeply under the cover of small talk. Their remarkable self-control seems even more dramatic in these days of bombast in our American rhetoric — in the loud, divisive, and in-your-face dialogue we face daily on the newscasts and in the papers. In this production, the performances are so low-key that we truly feel we are eavesdropping.
For here we have a situation in which a married woman is carrying on an affair with her husband’s best friend — an affair that lasted for eight years with neither the husband nor the wife ever confronting the other with charges of duplicity, lying or betrayal.
The revelations of the lies that each of them have been living by are revealed slowly and eloquently through Pinter’s words; and the three actors who are mouthing them are totally believable — even likabl e— though under their smart repartee and their excellent manners, there lies a tidal wave of passion that is always repressed and never revealed.
Jamie Lloyd, the director, has impressive British credits and this production is minimal which gives the play room to breathe and reach out to us. On a basically barren stage, only three chairs are available with which we somehow instantly know that we are in a sitting room, a kitchen, a bedroom or wherever else we need to be.
Jon Clark who designed the lighting has joined Soutra Gilmour who suppled scenic and costume design to bring atmosphere and mood to the proceedings. The 90 minute playing time is actually about 75 minutes of action when you consider that the constant pauses the playwright requires are as important as the words that precede and follow them. I don’t know anyone who speaks this way, but this highly stylized approach does give us time to reflect and analyze even as the play unfolds.
You won’t find a finer trio of actors (actually a quartet) anywhere onstage as the new season on Broadway finally arrives after a very slow summer. Harold Pinter, born in 1930 and died in 2008, made his voice known leaving us 29 plays and several memorable film scripts which assure him a lofty spot in the pantheon of playwrights.