Betrayal is a brisk 75-minute journey over the seven years of a love affair and its aftermath. The betrayals are multiple. Two marriages and a lifelong friendship. The lovers betray each other with lies.
Harold Pinter is best known for plays such as The Homecoming, The Birthday Party and The Caretaker. But Raven Theatre’s production, smartly directed by Lauren Shouse, shows why we consider Pinter a master of the nuances and sharp edges of personal relationships. The dialogue in his 1978 play, Betrayal, is biting and brooks no extra words. Shouse’s direction focuses our attention on the woman involved.
The play is written in nine scenes that move from present to past. As the play opens, the lovers—Emma (a gallery owner played by Abigail Boucher) and Jerry (Sam Guinan-Nyhart as the literary agent)—get together for a drink some time after their affair ended. They go through the ritual of asking about each others’ spouses, children and work. Other scenes mine the progress of their relationship, which includes renting a flat for their afternoon assignations, and maintaining their respective relationships with Emma’s husband, Robert (Keith Neagle), a book publisher.
Jerry and Robert meet at lunch in a restaurant in one scene. The Italian waiter adds some welcome levity to the scene. (This cameo is played by Richard Cotovsky, founder and artistic director of the late Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company. We wish the plot had required more meals in this Italian café and more appearances by the Italian waiter.)
In the final scene, Jerry, drunk at a party, tells Emma how he is mad about her, despite the fact that he was best man at her wedding to Robert. And that’s how it all started.
Betrayal, a well-rounded production with fine performances from the three principals, is staged alley style in Raven’s smaller West Stage. Lauren Nigri’s set design is beautifully minimal and requires only a few pieces of furniture and props. The actors carry out the breaks between scenes with no fuss.
An old friend of mine used to say, “Married people should fool around with married people.” Her reasoning was that when a single person has an affair with a married person, the result can only be heartbreak for the unmarried person (which was almost always a woman in those days). But Pinter’s Betrayal shows how an affair between two married people curdles multiple relationships.
Betrayal continues at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St., through December 17. Performances are Thursday-Sunday with tickets for $21-46. Raven has an “under-30 Thursday” offer with $13 tickets for patrons under 30. Phone 773-338-2177 for more info.