Betrayal is a study in the slow smolder of jealousy, the roil of resentment, and the fearful grip of insecurity bestowed by a love triangle among close friends. Despite the mind games played and lies spun amongst the interloper Jerry (played by Ian Barford), his mistress Emma (Amy Morton), and her husband Robert (Tracy Letts), the real Betrayal of this drama is the first ten minutes of the play, a mind numbing study in what has been critically lauded as the “Pinter Pause”.
Playwright Harold Pinter’s trademark dialogue has been upheld as a realistic portrayal of the banality of human conversation, a study in how we sometimes fill space with uncomfortable silences. Maybe it’s because I’m an ardent fan of Gilmore girls, where the main characters Rory and Lorelai Gilmore threaten to asphyxiate amidst their rapidfire never ending banter, but I think, at least in the first moments of this play where Jerry and Emma meet in a pub years after the end of their affair, Pinter’s a bore. Even throughout the play, the erudite sprinkle of conversation about William Butler Yeats and visits to Torcello island in Venice smack as learned haughtiness. Don’t take my word for it, the couple next to me literally head bobbed and snored through the first half hour.
Once you shuttle past the beginning, the unique structure of the play, which is told in reverse chronology alternated with flash forwards in time, rescues the remainder of the script. The dramatic irony of knowing what the future holds for the characters as you watch them perform the acts of the past is satisfying. As an audience member, you literally get to play the “I wish I knew then what I know now” game with foresight.
You might blame the actors for not compensating for Pinter’s sparse dialogue with imaginative performances, but that’s not the case here. Barford’s turn as Jerry is a nuanced study in desperation, foolhardiness, and dead serious passion, and his look, as well as his big faced exasperation reminds you of a younger version of the screen star Alfred Molina. Letts plays the stoic and emotionally stunted English husband Robert to perfection with a deadpan streak of irony that would be welcome as part of the management crew at Dunder Mifflin on NBC’s “The Office”.
Betrayal runs through May 27th at Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theatre with performances at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 3 p.m. and 7:30 pm on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets can be purchased at www.steppenwolf.org or by calling 312-335-1650
This article first appeared on Centerstagechicago.com