Nothing has ever happened,” says Jerry (Jered McLenigan) as he’s about to embark upon an affair with his best friend’s wife, Emma (Geneviève Perrier). “Nothing. This is the only thing that has ever happened.”
So begins the relationship that forms the heart of Harold Pinter’s quietly compelling 1978 play, BETRAYAL, now in production by Lantern Theater Company. We follow Jerry and Emma’s middle class English affair from Jerry’s drunken, clumsy expression of desire to an awkward post-romance pub meeting nine years later.
There’s little suspense or heightened emotion in Pinter’s script, directed here by Kathryn MacMillan. This is intentional, partially because thoughts and feeling are revealed more in what’s unsaid than said—most especially in the reactions of Emma’s arrogantly elegant husband, Robert (played with understated suavity by Gregory Isaac). But mostly it’s because we witness the affair in reverse chronological order, from 1977 to 1968—a passage of time demonstrated by the joyous vintage costumes by LeVonne Lindsay.
Pinter’s narrative device brings to my mind Gaspar Noé’s shocking 2002 film Irréversible and Martin Amis’s unsettling 1991 novel Time’s Arrow. By comparison, Pinter’s earlier work about the infidelities of comfortable Londoners is staid, like reading Peter Mayle’s bourgeois travel journal A Year in Provence back to front, with talk of squash, novel reading, and travel to Torcello, Italy.
It’s a world that Perrier, McLenigan, and Isaac bring to life convincingly. with the bumbling uncertainty of McLenigan’s Jerry contrasting nicely with Isaac’s self-assured Robert. And though the romantic chemistry between McLenigan and Perrier is slight (and they are sometimes hampered by their ungrounded accents), they otherwise capture the changing feelings between their characters as time releases its suffocating grasp.
The play begins with Emma feeling (ironically) betrayed by her husband, we witness Jerry and Emma’s betrayal of their respective spouses and families, and come to see the extent of Jerry’s betrayal of his best friend. But in witnessing the changes in the characters, from the optimism of their youth to the acrimony and resignation a decade later, we find new meaning in the play’s title. We are betrayed by time, and ultimately by ourselves.
[Lantern Theater Company at St. Stephen's Theater, 10th and Ludlow streets] January 10-February 17, 2019; lanterntheater.org