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Bed spins: Capital Repertory Theatre’s Betrayal.

A Turn of Affairs

By James Yeara

Betrayal

By Harold Pinter, directed by Terrence Lamunde

Capital Repertory Theatre, through Feb. 7

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.

Cruel to Be Kind

I Hate Hamlet

By Paul Rudnick, directed by Neilson Jones

Confetti Stage, Albany Masonic Hall, Jan. 29

In the same week that I saw Confetti Stage’s version of Paul Rudnick’s play I Hate Hamlet, the playwright had a piece published in The New Yorker. Rudnick wrote a parodic internal memo in response to a newspaper report that the Disney company is “re-imagining” its iconic mascot in a new video game. In Rudnick’s gag, Disney is willing to go to surprising lengths with its update. Just a few examples:

“In the Brokeback Mickey flashback, when Mickey makes tender love to Donald Duck, let’s have Mickey murmur, ‘Leave the little sailor hat on.’ ”

“Once Mickey is in the maximum-security prison, how about if he gets a crude tattoo of Jesus wearing the white gloves?”

“Let’s have Minnie appear on The Real Housewives of Disney along with Cinderella, Snow White, and the Little Mermaid. Then Minnie could sneer, ‘Do any of you bitches not have a gay husband?’ ”

Much as I wish to claim it, I am not making any of this up.

Rudnick, by the way, also is the writer of the movie Addams Family Values, which—as pointed out in an Entertainment Weekly interview—managed to sneak incest, S&M and masturbation jokes into a movie rated PG-13.

So, point is, Rudnick is willing to “go there.”

The Confetti Stage players, I think, are less willing. As source material, I Hate Hamlet is nowhere near so risqué as the aforementioned bits, but Rudnick’s campy characters—really almost caricatures—do evidence his freewheeling, cavalier, even flippant attitude.

I Hate Hamlet tells the story of actor Andrew Rally (Chuck Conroy), a recognizable TV actor whose show has been canceled. Andrew relocates from L.A. to New York, where he lands the role of Hamlet in a public-theater production at the same time he discovers he is wanted back in Hollywood for a far more lucrative and far less demanding TV gig. His choice is complicated by the competing opinions of his girlfriend, Deirdre McDavery (Heather Pielli), his agent, Lilian Troy (Mary Rutnik-Pekins), his producer pal, Gary Peter Lefkowitz (Isaac Newberry), and the ghost of legendary actor John Barrymore (Robert Francis Forgett), whose apartment Rally rented from real-estate agent Felicia Dantine (Daniela Malave).

Essentially—and ideally—it’s a kind of Pinocchio story with the part of Jiminy Cricket played by a drunken, grandiose egomaniac in stockings. (It’s worth noting that in its first performances in New York City, the part of Barrymore was played by famed stage loon Nicol Williamson, and that his costar quit and considered legal action against the production for Williamson’s insane abuse.) But the Confetti Stage leads, Forgett and Conroy, play Barrymore and Rally as if we’re supposed to like them, which I think misses the point and much of the impact. These are not deep, nuanced characters. They are punchline-delivery vehicles, and jokes in themselves.

Fortunately, a couple of the actors seemed in on this: Malave’s Drescher-esque Noo Yawker was fun and spirited; and, the high point of the show, Newberry, as the unapologetically crass writer-director-producer Gary Peter Lefkowitz, performed the role with perfect voice and gesture. He neither overplayed the humor nor treated his character more gently than Rudnick intended. Look for this guy in the future.

Perhaps these, as supporting roles, were the easier performances. But both had just had the right tone, and provided most of the evening’s not-infrequent laughs.

Admittedly, Forgett and Conroy had the harder slogs and were still competent enough to deliver the laugh lines serviceably. But even setting aside opening night clunkers (and there were several, including a truly unfortunate flub of Hamlet’s soliloquy), neither evinced quite the right insane ego (they’re portraying actors, after all) to really capture the sharpness—a kind of fond cruelty—of Rudnick’s regard.

—John Rodat

 


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