by Alan Jozwiak
Betrayal is never a topic we like to think about. We always like to see ourselves in relationships where there is total fidelity and loyalty. However, such idealizations tend not occur, as Harold Pinter writes in perhaps one of his best-known plays Betrayal, currently produced by Falcon Theatre in Newport.
Betrayal is a semi-autobiographical story telling about the twisted and complicated relationships between the couple Robert (Aaron Whitehead) and Emma (Samantha Joy Luhn) and Robert’s best friend Jerry (David Derringer), who has had in the past a long-standing affair with Emma.
Betrayal can be a challenging play to perform because the action moves backward. Time goes backward from a meeting of the former lovers Emma and Jerry in 1977 to the first time Jerry tells Emma he is in love with her in 1973. Director Becca Howell manages to avoid the inevitable confusion of this reverse chronology by aural clues. She plays radio clips during scene changes that involve a reverse time leap and has the date prominently mentioned. This simple trick allows the audience to know our place within time in a subtle, but effective manner.
The actors for this play are strong. Samantha Joy Luhn plays Emma and we get a chance to see her in a variety of different scenes. As time progresses, her confused demeanor dissolves from the first scene into the different stages of a lover going through their affair. Her Emma shines strongest during the beef stew scene at lover’s secret flat, as well as during the confrontation scene between her and Robert.
Aaron Whitehead plays the role of Emma’s husband Robert and he is the model of the stuff-upper lip Englishman. His reserve and upstanding demeanor breaks down beautifully during the confrontation scene with his wife Emma. Being upset without showing that upset is the best way to describe his reaction to learning of Emma’s confession of the affair. It is wonderful to see the two of them together as a study in contrast–Emma’s agitation offset by Robert’s dissolving facade of civil goodwill.
Rounding out this ensemble is David Derringer, who plays Jerry. Robert is a more dynamic and expansive character than his best friend, but Derringer explores the dynamism nicely in his portrayal of Jerry.
As stated above, Betrayal is a difficult show to produce because of the reverse chronology, but also because of the large amount of subtext that if occurring within the lives of these characters. Most of the time the characters are drinking and idly chit-chatting; the audience has to lean in a bit to make the connections. There are a few spots where that subtext is muddy, including the first scene.
We get a chance to live with these characters for over the 90 minutes, and the audience gets invested in the characters and their lives. The fun part of the show is seeing the references to things which get repeatedly mentioned, like the Venetian Tablecloth, reading Yeats on the Venetian island of Torcello, and Jerry’s misremembering of a certain story about Emma’s child. It becomes like a theatrical jig-saw puzzle to put the pieces into a proper picture.
In closing, Betrayal is a play that is seldom performed (this is only my second or third time seeing the show) and is worth the time seeing. It is a solid evening of theatre and will make you contemplate your own life and how it has been impacted by betrayal. While you might not experience the same levels of betrayal as these three characters, at least they serve to highlight the ways that we can be blind or ignore the betrayal in others.
Betrayal runs November 18 through December 3, 2022, with performances running Friday and Saturday nights each week. There is an added Thursday performance on December 1, 2022. All shows begin at 8 pm. Click HERE for more info.