by Lynn on September 5, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Harold Pinter

Directed by Andrea Donaldson

Set and costumes by Ken MacKenzie

Lighting by Rebecca Picherack

Sound and composed by Richard Feren

Cast: Virgilia Griffith

Ryan Hollyman

Jordan Pettle

Paolo Santalucia

A carefully thought out, detailed production in which the silences speak as loudly as the words about an affair.

The Story. Jerry and Emma are having an affair. Both are married. Jerry is married to Judith. Emma is married to Robert. Jerry and Robert are best friends and colleagues; Jerry is a literary agent and Robert is a publisher. And it all unfolds backwards. We follow the course of the affair, the revelations, the recriminations, the feelings of betrayal at the end and the euphoria as it begins. Complete with pauses. You gotta love that Harold Pinter.

The Production. The stage directions in the play note that it begins in 1977 (the end of the affair) and ends in 1968 (the beginning of the affair). Director Andrea Donaldson does not indicate the dates of the scenes in projections as the story unfolds. Rather after the first scene there is the sound effect of a clock ticking loudly, the passage of time. I thought that was nicely efficient to suggest the idea, that and Emma’s (Virgilia Griffith) changing hair styles and the change of clothes for all three. Another wonderful touch is that Jerry (Ryan Hollyman) seems to wear a different pair of glasses for each new scene.

Richard Feren has composed a score that sounds rather grand for this seductive play. I’m not sure what to make of that. Ken MacKenzie’s set that spans the width of the stage nicely establishes the various locations of the scenes without too much fuss of moving furniture. The men’s clothing changes slightly. Emma’s transformation over the years is more pronounced—varying hair styles and clothes. I thought it interesting that in one scene with Jerry he is wearing a three piece suit with a long sleeved shirt. Emma is wearing a sleeveless summer dress. I thought that odd until I remember that even in a heat wave in London men wear three piece suits and long sleeved shirts. And they don’t sweat.

Ryan Hollyman nicely conveys Jerry’s anxiety and uptightness, especially when he realizes that Emma told Robert (Jordan Pettle) of the affair. Jerry is a man of high emotions, panicky when the affair is revealed and joyous at the beginning when he and Emma meet for their afternoon trysts. Virgilia Griffith as Emma on the other hand is cool, watchful and unflappable. She says to Jerry that she had to tell Robert of the affair. It’s been going on for years but she feels she had to tell him. Jerry never pushes her to explain why and she never offers. I love that delicate dance. As the play unfolds we realize that Robert has betrayed Emma with other women; she has betrayed Robert and Jerry has betrayed his wife with Emma. For Robert it seems to be a game. Jordan Pettle plays Robert as a masterful games player. Robert doesn’t care really what is happening between Emma and Jerry because he’s been cheating on his wife for years. However he’s wily. He notices everything. He puts things together and then waits until he can catch his ‘victim’ in a lie. Jerry is relaxed, charming and dangerous.

It’s not just the betraying that Pinter is exploring, it’s the psychology of the players. Jerry gives in to his emotions and can’t help himself. Hollyman is almost giddy when he expresses his love for Emma when the affair begins. She on the other hand slowly gives over to the feeling and the danger of having an affair as if it would be an interesting exercise, an amusement.

Pinter never explains why they are cheating. Perhaps he leaves that to us. He seems more interested in the give and take of the game of it. The game of squash is mentioned often. Robert invites Jerry to play squash with him. It’s a metaphor for getting the best of your opponent either in the game or in a relationship and that is certainly conveyed in Jordan Pettle’s performance of a man who looks for his opponent’s weaknesses to strike and beat him.

Comment. Betrayal opened at the National Theatre in 1978 and has been performed steadily since then. There is a production of it on Broadway now. I find it interesting that Stephen Sondheim’s musical of Merrily We Roll Along (1983) is about the friendship of three people over time and it too unfolds backwards, yet that show is famous for being a flop, seemingly the few times that it’s played (although I think the London production of a few years ago might prove me wrong). I thought Sondheim’s music was swell.

Betrayal seems deceptively simple perhaps because Pinter’s dialogue is so spare. But it’s what is not being said, the subtle looks in reaction that are beautifully realized in the acting and Andrea Donaldson’s careful direction that illuminate this dandy play.

 Soulpepper presents:

Opened: Sept. 4, 2019.

Closes: Sept. 22, 2019.

Running Time: 80 minutes, no intermission

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