In a season devoted to shows that play with fire, Fells Point Corner Theatre’s second production, Betrayal by Harold Pinter, keeps the flames alive. Directed by Andrew J. Porter, Betrayal examines the lives of three people bound together by marriage and friendship, and the moments when those loyalties are broken.
Betrayal opens on a lunch meeting between former lovers, Emma and Jerry. Emma is getting divorced, she tells him. Her husband, Robert, has been having affairs. She in turn has finally told him about the affair she and Jerry had years ago. Jerry is dismayed, as he and Robert have been friends since college, and he had hoped that Robert would never find out about it, especially as it had ended years before. In the next scene, however, we discover that Robert didn’t find out about the affair the night before, as Emma had said, but four years ago. Lies and betrayals all around, it would seem.
From there, the play bounces around in time, going back to look at moments during the affair and consequences that sprung from them, eventually ending at the beginning, with the first betrayal that started all the rest.
Thom Eric Sinn plays Jerry, the best friend and lover. Jerry is clever, affable, funny, and a bit of a hypocrite. Sinn gets quite a few laughs from the audience as Jerry, and it’s easy to see how Emma fell for him and how Robert could maintain their friendship despite the affair. Of the three, he’s the most childlike, a quality which works well for the character. It’s an attractive contrast to Gareth Kelly’s stiffer, more pedantic Robert, and makes his moments of anger and upset come across like a child pouting, offering a well-placed touch of levity in some otherwise heavy scenes.
As the cuckolded Robert, Gareth Kelly is entirely British. Dry, wry, and usually found with a drink in hand, his Robert keeps calm and carries on through his troubles, though moments of distress manage to seep through the cracks here and there. It’s a strong, understated performance that I loved.
Ryan Gunning as Emma is superb. There’s an air of melancholy to her Emma, a longing for something that’s never fully articulated, something she herself may not fully understand. Gunning’s Emma displays a great capacity for love and perhaps an even greater need for it; a need which never seems to be met. Even as she lies and cheats, betraying her husband, her lover, and herself, there’s an endearing quality to her that makes you wish she could just find what it is she’s missing and be happy.
So much of Betrayal is communicated between the lines – in breaks between words, in facial expressions and body language – that I kept thinking as I watched that I could see a hundred productions of this play and never witness the same show twice. It could be easy to make these characters insufferable, despicable even. Instead, all three characters are portrayed as likeable, even sympathetic. There’s no villain here, no one to root for or against. Emma, Jerry, and Robert are all painfully human, with flaws and complexities and their emotions all mixed up inside, and the play is all the more compelling for it.
Andrew Porter, who, in addition to directing, is sound editor and set designer for this production, has created a chilly environment to house this play of passions. The set is sleek and modern looking, with clean lines and a cool color palette that gives the stage a feeling of icy sterility. Perfect for a play where so much is hidden, and where the actions bear bitter fruit. Moveable walls divide the spaces. They’re a good concept which works well once in place, but the transitions are loud.
The costumes, designed by Anne Shoemaker, add another element to the tone of the show, as the clothes subtly change color as we move around in time. The show begins with the actors dressed in black, when the damage has been done and the relationships are dead or dying. By the end of the show, in contrast, everyone is in white and cream, with a whole spectrum of colors being worn in the scenes in between.
Elizabeth Forte Alman is the dialect coach for this production and she’s done amazing work with everyone. There are a few moments where the diction is a little too precise, but I’d rather have that precision than someone slipping into a flatter, American accent.
Anne Shoemaker also stage managed, with assistance from Rose Machon. David Morey did the lighting design, which, like most other aspects of the production, was subtle and lovely.
Betrayal is a play where everyone gets burned and it’s keeping up a slow, smoldering burn at Fells Point Corner Theatre. There’s only one weekend left to catch Betrayal and a “talk back” with the cast and director is scheduled after the final performance. Don’t miss it!
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.