Reversed psychology


By Harold Pinter
Directed by Marcia Haufrecht
Presented by Common Basis Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Elias Stimac

Harold Pinter characteristically delves into the psychological effects of an extramarital affair in his play Betrayal. The drama is not only pregnant with subtext and suppressed emotions, it is also told in reverse -- a practice made popular more recently in Stephen Sondheim's stage musical Merrily We Roll Along and the feature film Memento. The show focuses on married couple Robert (Robert Haufrecht) and Emma (Stephanie Schimiderer), and Robert's best friend Jerry (Charles Kelley), who ends up having an affair with Emma for seven years.

Betrayal begins with a reunion of the lovers at a pub in 1977, and ends with their first flirtation at a house party in 1968. The concept is intriguing, as is the construction of the play by Pinter. A few of the scenes play forward before jumping back, but on the whole, he adheres to the unique rules of the structure. The script doesn't entirely hold up since its debut over 30 years ago, but there is still plenty of relevant matter for today's audiences.

In this latest revival, presented at the Common Basis Theatre, the direction by Marcia Haufrecht was alternately controlled and casual. The husband's discovery of a suspicious letter and the final scene -- which replays the initial drunken encounter leading to the affair -- were both appropriately unnerving. Moments from the middle years of the relationship made less of an impact, and the staging of the couple embracing on a couch was particularly clumsy.

Another scene that seemed out of rhythm was a meeting between Jerry and Robert (soon after Jerry finds out about his friend's deception). The dinner is supposed to be awkward, but the rhythm throughout the interlude seemed off-kilter. Not helping matters was a cameo in the scene by Michael Roche, who was too self-conscious to match the credibility level of the lead actors.

Schimiderer, Haufrecht, and Kelley worked well together in the various pairings that Pinter puts them in. A few flubbed lines here and there didn't undermine the strong presence of each of the performers. Haufrecht evoked sympathy as the cuckolded spouse, and Kelley kept a cool exterior as the backstabbing buddy. Schimiderer had the most difficult role, and only occasionally conveyed the conflicting motivations that caused her to stray from her marriage into the arms of another man.

Malini S. Singh's lighting design was uninspired, and left a lot of the stage-right area in shadows. The uncredited costumes were effective, at times striking. Classical music interludes helped to distract audience members' attention away from the increasingly ponderous set changes (culminating with a sofa bed slowly being made up with sheets and pillows).

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 Elias Stimac