Review: BETRAYAL at REC ROOM ARTS through July 6th

A seething portrait of seven years of sin!

By: Jun. 18, 2024
Review: BETRAYAL at REC ROOM ARTS through July 6th
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BETRAYAL is likely one of the best examples of what makes Harold Pinter a giant in the theater landscape. His plays use economical dialogue and many hidden agendas, and he asks actors to play the subtext of what is happening beneath the surface. He remains the actor’s playwright and was a man who enjoyed performing on the stage. The Royal National Theatre debuted this play in 1978, and it is admittedly a rather autobiographical one for Pinter. He had an extended affair with television personality Joan Bakewell for seven years. And here we are with a play about a side relationship that lasts the same span of time. BETRAYAL was made into a film in 1983 and had a Broadway revival as recently as 2019. THE REC ROOM seems to take most of their cues for this Houston production from that New York run five years back. Like that remounting, there is color-blind casting and a sparse set of all-white surrounding the actors, who are also on a turntable to revolve the set at dramatic moments. They devise a decidedly theatrical take on Pinter that revels in the chance to act in their intimate space and wrestle with the words of a legend. This play moves backward like the musical and non-musical iterations of MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG (a Moses and Kaufman play from 1934, which Sondheim made a musical of in 1981). We see the end of the affair and return to where it all started in about one hour and fifteen minutes. But unlike MERRILY, we hardly see anyone turn back to idealistic innocents. No, BETRAYAL is about the darkest corners of the human condition. 

THE REC ROOM and director Sophia Watt present this Pinter classic in their intimate space with a simplistic idea of white sheets everywhere, a table with chairs, and lots of stemware to represent the drinks the characters imbibe during their tense conversations and lunches. Dates, years, and a general idea of the place are projected onto a sheet. Stefan Azizi has given it a stark and clinical palette. Normally, the play is set in London and Italy, but here, they have opted to forego any English accents so that the setting could be anywhere. The sheets recall the white walls of the aforementioned Broadway revival of 2019 and, at the same time, give us a lurid idea of all of this happening between bed linens. The actors never change clothes, the set remains sparse, and nothing ever scenically distracts. The sound design by Robert Leslie Meek has some artificial dramatic stingers and often lends to the overall feel of putting on a show. It gives BETRAYAL a presentational feel of the theatre. 

In step with the play’s designers, the actors opt for this artificial construct in their performances. We sense them working and see them acting, and it feels like theatre rather than dropping into a real affair. Don’t get me wrong; they do amazing, blistering work. This is as impressive as anything REC ROOM has presented in terms of skill, but there is a lack of lightness. The cast gets the intensity but sometimes misses the natural humor and amusement that often comes with Pinter. That may be for the best, given we are watching relationships fall apart, but sometimes I ached for a more intense range of feelings. I also wanted different notes; the default setting here is seething and simmering from the crossing of each other. They are playing the most obvious notes that spring from the title. 

The three leads are played by Brandon J. Morgan, Molly Wetzel, and Jay Sullivan, who form the romantic triangle. Each takes a different approach here to how they deliver everything. Brandon’s adulterous Jerry (a stand-in for Pinter) keeps his voice soft and seductively smooth throughout. Even when he is angry or worked up, there is an inner peace that perhaps makes him the most dangerous player. Molly is the lady torn between two lovers, and we feel her division in recognizing she must lie to both parties in equal doses. Jay is the opposite of Brandon; he seethes and simmers without any hint of inner peace or a poker face. I could feel the hurt in each one, but I missed any love or light. Alternately, in a very fun turn, Eva Olivia Catanzariti plays an Italian waitress who hates one of the men and loves the other. She does this mini-version of BETRAYAL’s plot, all just simply taking wine and food orders in one scene. 

BETRAYAL is everything you want from a REC ROOM production. It is thoughtful, well-acted, and designed especially for a small space. Sophia Watt and her company drive home the conflicts and the feelings of confusion and loss when an affair falls apart messily and mercilessly. The three actors deliver technically amazing performances, and this is a classic piece of modern theatre that is well worth revisiting. My only beef is that sometimes the whole proceeding feels artificial or theatrical. It is an exquisite presentation of BETRAYAL but might leave you a little cold. Then again, isn’t that what being betrayed sometimes feels like?

BETRAYAL runs through July 6th at 100 Jackson Street, just past Minute Maid Park downtown. The building has a great bar that opens an hour and a half before the performance and stays open well past it if you want some drinks and to talk. The show runs for one hour and fifteen minutes without any intermission. 

Tasha Gorel took the amazing photo of the cast for this article. 


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