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A Turn of Affairs

by James Yeara on February 4, 2010

Betrayal
Capital Repertory Theatre, through Feb. 7

Bed spins: Capital Repertory Theatre’s Betrayal.

Lauded from its first performance in 1978, turned into a 1983 film starring Ben Kingsley and Jeremy Irons, frequently performed in area theaters, Betrayal is Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter’s most popular work. A tale of the infidelities and the lies of three professional-class friends/former friends/former lovers/lovers (the play’s nine scenes work in reverse chronological order; so, like nesting dolls, the outer event always has a more compact inner scene waiting to be revealed). Betrayal has always attracted first-rate acting talent, and acting talent of the first order is needed to plumb the depths of a play that can otherwise become burdened with the tiring cliché of Pinteresque pauses.

Written at a time when Pinter was, himself, having an affair, Betrayal traces the inward gyres of the post-affair relationship between Jerry (Timothy Dennihan), former best friend and best man of Robert (Tim Smallwood), whose soon-to-be- former-wife Emma (Hollis McCarthy) conducted a seven-year affair with Jerry. The opening scene, set at a pub, occurs in 1977, two years after the end of the affair between Jerry and Emma. The two sit awkwardly, sipping dark ale and white wine, Emma’s elbow barely touching the table. “Do you ever think of me?” she asks coquettishly, the round pub table firmly between them. “I don’t need to think of you,” Jerry answers, pausing, looking at Emma, gesturing, then repeating, “I don’t need to think of you.” Emma twists to face Jerry, reaches for him, her fingers extending more than halfway across the table, palm upward. But when Jerry reaches for her, Emma retreats, her hand curling safely around her wine glass.

The scenes then move backward in time as the curious set—a wooden revolve with people in chair-sized rectangles cut out of the walls, so the whirling set resembles a Black Forest cuckoo clock as characters are whisked upstage into the darkness or downstage to the light—-revisits various bedrooms back to the affair’s drunken beginnings. The brisk pace and 80-minute running time of Betrayal keep the audience engaged and reinforce the impact of each scene and each betrayal: Fidelity, it seems, is not for upscale intellectuals, those capable of dissecting postmodernist fiction, those who conspicuously quote Yeats, those perfecting the studied pretentious façade of white-wine brunchers and New Yorker skimmers everywhere.

During the play’s last moments, the very beginning of Jerry’s conquest of Emma, a woman in the audience cautioned—seven years too late—“Don’t do it!” Those interested in the affairs within affairs of the pretentiously wealthy will find Capital Rep’s Betrayal as intriguing as the turning revolve. Others will wonder where such spin gets one.