Zawe Ashton ,Tom Hiddleston, and Charlie Cox star
By Ron Cohen
Pinter’s Betrayal, which premiered in London in1978, is making its
fourth stand on Broadway, and three superbly honed performances make clear
there’s still plenty of juice to be squeezed from this minutely detailed saga
of marital infidelity.
production, directed by noted Pinter interpreter Jamie Lloyd, has been imported
from London after an acclaimed run. It gives us Pinter with the stage trappings
stripped down to a minimum. There are a couple of chairs, a folding table, some
drinking glasses and beer bottles, and a small assortment of other props. Plus
one costume per actor.
keeps the actors in blazing focus, revealing deep nuances, churning
emotionality and surprising humor that might get lost in a more conventional
production laden with all the scenery and garb suggested by the script’s varied
locales and time shifts.
Pinter’s own experiences, the play begins two years after Emma (Zawe Ashton)
and Jerry (Charlie Cox) have ended their long affair. The two are catching up over
drinks, and Emma informs Jerry that with her marriage breaking up she has just
told her husband, Robert (Tom Hiddleston), about the affair. It’s news that upturns
Jerry’s usual easygoing demeanor. After all, Robert is his best friend.
conversation is rather glib, almost a clever parody of drawing room comedy
repartee. There are laughs aplenty. But the gravity of the situation looms in
the background with Robert not literally in the scene but very present.
most significant directorial choice made by Lloyd is to almost always have the
three actors on stage even though most scenes involve just two. It’s a constant
reminder that such deception always involves those being betrayed as well as
those carrying out the betrayal. And Hiddleston’s Robert makes the most of it,
transmitting the pain and damage Emma’s deception is causing him from behind
his seeming composure as a respected publisher.
As the play
unwinds, Ashton’s Emma reveals herself to be a curious mélange of tenderness
and self-involvement, aware of the hurt she’s causing Robert (it turns out he
knew about the affair for years) but somehow unconcerned.
happy-go-lucky exterior as Jerry is the perfect counterpoint, often keeping the
mood nicely upbeat. Jerry is a noted literary agent, married as well but
apparently unworried that his wife, busy with her own career, would care about
the affair if she knew.
He and Robert
have been best pals since college days. One of the most masterful scenes comes
when the two meet for a lunch that becomes a battle of forced smiles as the old
friends discuss everything – from squash games to literature – except for the
matter that looms over the meeting: Jerry’s affair with Emma. (Eddie Arnold as
an impatient Italian waiter trying to be helpful over menu choices adds to the
opening with Jerry and Emma’s post-affair meeting, the play through a series of
scenes moves back in time to the start of the relationship, with Jerry making
his move on Emma with surprising ardor and passion. It happens in the kitchen
of Robert and Emma’s home, while the unseen Robert travels about the stage
seated in a chair holding in his arms his sleeping daughter. At one point, he
is almost nose to nose with Jerry.
It makes for
great, jolting theater. And while the production is minimalist, the subtle
contributions made by the creative team should not be overlooked: the
shape-shifting set design by Soutra Gilmour, who also did the costumes, and the
way it allows the actors standing still to glide about the stage; the varied
colors of Jon Clark’s lighting, and the inobtrusive but affecting sound design
and composition by Ben and Max Ringham.
Still you may
at times get a feeling that what you’re watching are three actors exploring a
text in the bare environment of an acting class. (With Broadway prices, they
couldn’t afford a little more scenery, a cynic might ask. To be fair, there are
some $25 tickets for this show, along with a digital lottery.)
magnetic actors they are.
All three are
making their Broadway debuts. Hiddleston is the big marquee name, known in England
for his accomplished classic stage performances but in the U.S. primarily for
his appearances in the Avenger movies (not to mention his 2016 summer
romance with pop goddess Taylor Swift).
Yet all three
are indeed auspicious debuts, and this intense, intimate dive into one of
Pinter’s most acclaimed works is no betrayal of the playwright’s genius.
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