BETRAYAL ON BROADWAY
BETRAYAL ON BROADWAY
When I first saw Harold Pinter’s Betrayal in its first Broadway production in 1980, it had a high-octane cast with Raul Julia, Blythe Danner, and Roy Scheider in a naturalistic setting. The current Broadway revival (the third since then) at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre takes a different tack. Directed by Jamie Lloyd, it transplants the London cast for a production that is spartan and less obviously starry, but altogether riveting.
The play presents the classic love triangle involving Robert (Tom Hiddleston), his wife Emma (Zawe Ashton), and their best friend Jerry (Charlie Cox). Using reverse chronology, it begins with Emma and Jerry reconnecting for a drink two years after their seven-year affair has ended and ends with the moment it was sparked. Sometimes that approach, as with Sondheim and Furth’s Merrily We Roll Along, is problematic, but not in Pinter’s hands.
Lloyd dispenses with virtually all scenery and chooses to keep all three onstage the entire time, even when there are only two characters in a scene. As a result, the dynamics of the affair (and the sense that there’s always another in the relationship) are clear to see. This austere approach couldn’t work without extremely precise direction and acting. The three actors each have the beautiful, lithe bodies of dancers who don’t miss a step in their moments, even on turntables.
Hiddleston, the marquee name in the mix, thanks to the Avengers movies and The Night Manager mini-series, is intense and skeptical, with a closed, narrow face. Cox is more trusting, with a broader, open face. Their friendship is perhaps not as deep as they avow, more professional than deeply personal, their squash games a sign of competitiveness. Ashton, of African-English parentage, has a feline quality that sets her apart and shows the strain of the triangle for “the other woman.” As it turns out, there are multiple betrayals, with secrets within confessions, and conflicting memories of what took place.
The famously Pinteresque pauses apply here, though with less menace than in The Caretaker or The Homecoming. (Take them out, and the 90-minute intermission-less drama would be even shorter.) There’s not flash in this production, but the satisfaction of seeing Pinter’s words brought into sharp relief by acting and direction of the highest order.