Sunday, April 14, 2002

Betrayal (Cleveland Play House)

'Betrayal' fails to captivate at Play House

Harold Pinter is a first class poet. His plays and films are masterfully crafted word songs. He is multi-talented. His plays include 'THE BIRTHDAY PARTY,' 'THE DUMB WAITER,' 'PARTY TIME' and 'CELEBRATION.' His film credits include 'THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN,' 'THE HANDMAID’S TALE' and 'BUTLEY.' Television credits are 'THE HOTHOUSE,' 'PARTY TIME' and 'LANDSCAPE.' He has appeared as an actor in numerous plays, films, tv and radio. His bio lists over 25 international awards. This is one very, very prolific man.

'BETRAYAL,' now on stage at the Cleveland Play House, was first presented in 1978 in London. It contains biographical material, but is not autobiographical. The story, which is written in a backwards tunnel of time, starts with a meeting between adulterous lovers, Jerry and Emma, two years after their seven year affair has died. In nine scenes the play moves back through the stages of the affair, until the play ends with its beginning in Emma and her husband Robert’s house. In the process we see Jerry and Emma’s love for each other and the interactions between best friends Robert and Jerry. We are eavesdroppers in a series of betrayals.

This is a world of poetic tone. Unfortunately, the Play House production, under the direction of Peter Hackett fails to fully orchestrate those rhythms. The play, written as a two act script, is performed without intermission. The slow pace, the lack of setting up many of the humor lines, and the physical setting of the Bolton Theatre, all add up to a less than satisfying enactment of a wonderful script.

The Bolton, which was envisioned as CPH’s answer to an intimate space doesn’t serve the purpose well. This is an intimate play, we need to feel close to the action. The depth of the stage, the fact that much of action takes place near the rear of the stage, doesn’t allow the audience to become involved.

Paul Vincent Black’s Robert doesn’t make us feel his cause for betrayal. Anne Torsiglieri’s Emma doesn’t project the pain that leads to her affair and betrayal. Even the always competent Andrew May fails to dig into the bowels of Jerry. They all just seem to be saying words, not beautifully crafted words.

Pavel Dobrusky’s sterile set doesn’t help in creating the necessary intimacy.

Capsule judgement: All in all, the Cleveland Play House’s BETRAYAL misses the theatrical mark. Bad? No. Not to be seen? No. Wonderful? No.