British dramatist Harold Pinter won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, but his 29 plays have only occasionally been staged in Sacramento. Now Capital Stage is doing one of Pinter’s most famous and innovative scripts – a story about infidelity titled “Betrayal.” The show is a highlight of the winter season’s theater offerings.
Most plays about a married person having an affair unfold the story from the very beginning. But in “Betrayal,” Harold Pinter begins this play after the end of the affair and then works backward into the apologies. Here’s an exchange with an agitated guy haltingly confessing to his best friend and longtime professional colleague that yes, he’s been having a hidden, multi-year relationship with the other fella’s wife. Notice the lingering, meaningful pauses – a hallmark of Pinter’s dialog.
Jerry: “I know about last night, she told me about it. You were up all night, weren’t you?
Robert: “That’s correct .”
Jerry: “And she told you, last night… about her and me… did she not?”
Robert: “No, she didn’t… She didn’t tell me about you and her last night. She told me about you and her four years ago… So she didn’t have to tell me again, last night, because I knew.”
Pinter traces the whole arc of the affair in retrograde, over a period of ten years. Along the way, there’s the tense exchange when the husband finds an unopened envelope and suspects that there’s a love letter inside.
Robert: He was the best man at our wedding, was he?
Emma: You know he was.
Robert: Well, that’s probably when I introduced him to you. Any message for me in his letter? I mean, in the line of business, to do with the world of publishing… has he discovered any new and original talent? He’s quite talented at uncovering talent, old Jerry.
Emma: No message.
Robert: No message? Not even his love?
Then we reach a long pause.
Emma: We are lovers.
Robert: Yes… I thought it might be something like that… something along those lines…
Now romantic betrayal has been a big theme in British literature since King Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot. Pinter presents this more prosaic story in a concise, chilly manner... these characters aren’t warm and fuzzy, or even admirable. But their human failings are entirely believable. And in addition to coaxing strong acting from her solid cast, director Janis Stevens incorporates vintage progressive rock and early minimalist music from the 70s, as well as understated colors in the sets and costumes. This is a tightly integrated production of an important play that should have premiered locally a quarter century ago… Let’s just say that its arrival now is “Better late than never!”
This production of Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” continues through Feb. 26 at the Capital Stage in Sacramento.