In the year 1999, Jerry confesses to Emma, his best friend’s wife, that he has loved her since he was best man at her wedding to Robert, and they begin an affair which goes on for years. In 2008, two years after ending the affair, Jerry and Emma meet again. With her marriage breaking up, she needs someone to talk to. In the course of conversation, Emma reveals (to Jerry’s dismay) that Robert knew about (and didn’t particularly mind) their affair. Indeed, says Emma, he knew about it as far back as 2004. 

If Harold Pinter’s Betrayal were just any play, I would be guilty here of spoiling the ending. However nothing with Pinter is ordinary. He tells the story of Betrayal in reverse order, beginning with two disillusioned lovers and one cuckolded husband and ending with the beginning of love. 

Betrayal is a play I’d long wanted to see, if only for its structure. I’d once rented the movie version only to discover that the video was defective. No luck for me, it seemed … until last night’s opening of Andak Stage Company’s superbly acted and directed production and I now understand what all the fuss is about. 
I expected drama, and there is much of that, but there is also considerable humor, of the dry British variety. In fact, it is hard to imagine Betrayal transposed into an American milieu. The equanimity with which Robert accepts (or at least seems to accept) his wife’s betrayal seems quintessentially British as does Pinter’s tersely elegant dialog. 

Take, for instance, Betrayal’s opening conversation between two people who used to be lovers: 
JERRY: Well. 
EMMA: How are you? 
JERRY: All right. 
EMMA: You look well. 
JERRY: Well, I’m not that well, really. 
EMMA: Why? What’s the matter? 
JERRY: Hangover. (Raising his glass.) Cheers. 

There are also the famed “Pinter pauses,” moments in which the unspoken speaks volumes, as well as many instances when a character’s words and eyes say two quite different things. For these two reasons alone, Pinter is a playwright whose writing is best appreciated performed, especially by actors as fine as these. 

The cast which director John DeMita has assembled is first rate indeed, and thoroughly British in accent and manner, beginning with the always sensational Nike Doukas as Emma. Beneath her outwardly unruffled surface lie depths of feeling which Doukas’s eyes lay bare, particularly in one memorable scene in which she slowly crumbles before our eyes. Daniel Reichert seems at first to be a bit too much of the fuddy-duddy to have attracted a woman as stunning as Emma, yet as the play progress (i.e. moves back in time), Reichert makes Jerry a romantic, even noble, figure. Best of all is the terrific Leo Marks as Robert. Marks has a star quality no amount of acting school can buy, and is in fact so dashing that one wonders at first at Emma’s betrayal. Yet as Pinter reveals Robert’s own betrayals, and Marks’ grin reveals a sly fox of a man beneath the surface, it does become understandable that Emma might indeed fall for Jerry’s unabashed adoration. A fine Harris Matthews appears in an amusing scene as an Italian waiter. 

DeMita’s direction brings out the best in Pinter’s writing, keeping his cast on the same page and maintaining impeccable pace and timing. The stage right blackboard on which cast members mark the steadily descending years, is particularly helpful. Dean Cameron’s set makes excellent use of the tiny NewPlace Studio’s stage (this is truly theater at its most intimate), morphing into the play’s numerous locales, and his costumes are precisely those which the characters themselves would have chosen. Peter Strauss’s lighting evokes Betrayal’s many moods, and DeMita’s sound design incorporates an absolutely perfect selection of songs, from classic love songs to Bacharach. 

A production as fine as this does full justice to Pinter’s brilliant dialog, and makes me eager to see more of the Nobel Laureate’s work. Whether you are a longtime Pinter aficionado, or a newbie like me, Andak Stage Company’s production of Betrayal is highly recommended theater.

NewPlace Studio Theatre, 10950 Peach Grove Street, North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
June 28, 2008
Photos: John DeMita

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