Review: Nichols' BETRAYAL Doesn't Give One Pause
The quickly sold-out limited run and the rumors of scalpers raking it in by the thousands should not be mistaken for signs that Broadway audiences can't get enough of the tense and lethal economical wordplay of Harold Pinter.
Because, while they may not exactly be the Lunts, even if spouses Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz were starring in a Broadway revival of Abie's Irish Rose there would still be no trouble filling up those $499 premium seats.
Following the new millennium's trend of producing easily digestible, surface skimming, star vehicle commercial Broadway revivals of Twentieth Century dramas (Debbie Allen's laff-riot Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, Michael Wilson's warm and comical The Trip To Bountiful), Mike Nichols' slick and quickly-paced mounting of Pinter's 1978 infidelity drama, Betrayal, is little more than an attractive showcase for its stars that ultimately creates less excitement on stage than off.
Inspired from the events of his own extramarital affair, the potential for verbal thrills in Pinter's text comes from the fact that his characters are educated, literary people, well versed in the power of words - and the silences in between them - to attack and humiliate.
The action begins in 1977, with drinks between art gallery manager Emma (Weisz) and her one-time lover, literary agent Jerry (Rafe Spall). Emma, who is having an affair with one of Jerry's writers, Casey, is about to end her marriage to book publisher Robert (Craig), who is Jerry's best friend, because she's discovered he's been cheating on her. But Emma and the married Jerry were carrying on an affair for years during her marriage to Robert,
(You don't need a Playbill for this one. You need a scorecard.)
The next scene, still in '77, adds a twist to one of the knives and from then on the play progresses backwards a year or so with each scene until we're in 1968, watching the first of the story's dramatized Betrayals. The point is not for audience members to see what happens next, but for viewers to observe the suble clues that will direct the action to where they know it's going and to determine who knows what about whom at any given time and discover how each uses their knowledge to their advantage.
While the characters are scripted as reserved, cultured Brits who bottle up emotions nice and neatly, Nichols has his players broaden up their reactions in a manner that's flashy and more comical, but less interesting. Most of those legendary Pinter pauses, non-verbal displays of dominance or defeat when properly timed, are reduced to mere stammers.
The playwright does include quite a bit of drinking in the proceedings, but here the imbibing causes tongues to lash instead of sharpen; most notably in a restaurant scene where Robert verbally abuses a waiter (the talented Stephen DeRosa, whose name doesn't even appear on the Playbill's title page, in a small role) while the real source of his anger is dining with him.
The result leans more toward being a light drama with tension-relieving comic moments, never reaching the play's potential for psychological warfare. But audiences attracted to the star names more than the drama's impact should find themselves happily engaged.