spins: Capital Repertory Theatre’s Betrayal.
Turn of Affairs
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.
to Be Kind
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:
the Brokeback Mickey flashback, when Mickey makes tender
love to Donald Duck, let’s have Mickey murmur, ‘Leave the
little sailor hat on.’ ”
Mickey is in the maximum-security prison, how about if he
gets a crude tattoo of Jesus wearing the white gloves?”
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.
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.