Monday, February 12, 2024

Betrayal (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize in literature, which is way impressive.  As a writer he managed to write silences into his plays which were filled with meaning, and forced actors to plumb the text for meanings by having them say the same lines several times.  It makes for quite a challenge--one met magnificently by the latest production of Betrayal by Santa Monica's CityGarage.

Frankly, been looking forward to this ever since they announced it on the schedule and even more when I read the cast.

Essentially, the play tells the story of an affair.  Emma (Angela Beyer) is married to book publisher Robert (David E. Frank) but had/has had a long term affair with his best friend Jerry (Troy Dunn).  If this sounds a little too straightforward, even mundane for Pinter, never you worry.  What follows is a sometimes scorching, sometimes hilarious, always intriguing exploration of human relations.  Aiding in all this is how the scenes generally (but not quite always) proceed in reverse chronological order, namely starting with a meeting years after the affair has ended and ending with the scene in which that new relationship was truly born.  Helping all this is a a character known simply as the Waiter (Gifford Irving) who wanders around the scenes in which his character does not appear simply to tell the audience when what follows happens.

This last is a tiny addition from director Frederique Michel.  Personally, even though I understood the chronology (did the role of Waiter at my University), this helped me keep track.

But what really grabs our attention and hearts are the performances.  Again, Pinter masterfully forces actors to examine what the words coming out of their mouths really mean.  In the hands of these actors, the results often astound.  The meaning of the word "squash" for example changes dramatically as events proceed.  All too often current styles of acting consist of treating lines casually--which in theatre at least nearly always turns out to be a dreadful error.  In Betrayal every word matters, and given its author so too nearly every single silence, i.e. the words not said.  Maybe never even considered for speaking.  

One result of this is a constant state of surprise.  Predicting what is about to happen simply doesn't work.  Oh, we know some of the results already.  The play began at the ending after all!  But the play isn't about the plot, but about the human relationships--the thousand thousand tiny moments, the words said or stammered or whispered or spat.  Every question asked, and answered (or not) assumes enormous weight--the weight of lives and hopes and disappointments.  Even the tiny, meaningless lies.  Or the tiny, seemingly meaningless details.  Whose kitchen was it when Jerry did that thing?  Where did Robert go in Venice, and how?  When did Emma tell her husband that secret?  

Trivial and momentous at the same time and for the same reason.

Betrayal plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 4pm until March 17, 2024 at Bergamot T1 Space, 2525 Michigan Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90404.