“Betrayal,” now being presented at the Mile Square Theatre in Hoboken, offers the rare opportunity to see characters grow younger.
The 1978 drama, which is one of Harold Pinter’s best-known works, tells the story of an affair, but it begins after the affair is over and works its way back to the moment it started, nine years previously. The story unfolds and deepens, but differently from the way we’re used to: Past incidents are referred to, and then we see them happen. To the credit of the actors in this excellent production, you really do feel them growing younger before your eyes — more vibrant, and less jaded and stoic. More open to what the future holds, and less beaten down by experience.
The affair is between Emma (played by Dena Tyler), who runs an art gallery, and Jerry (Aidan Redmond), who is a literary agent. Emma is married to Robert (Matthew Lawler), a book publisher who is Jerry’s oldest friend. Jerry was, in fact, the best man at their wedding, and Jerry and Robert’s careers have been intertwined since they were both in college.
The scenery in this production, which was directed by Mile Square Theatre founder and artistic director Chris O’Connor, is minimal, with just a few pieces of furniture moved around to create, in different scenes, a pub, a restaurant, and various rooms in London and Venice where the action takes place. And by “action” I mean, basically, one-on-one conversations between Emma and Jerry, and Emma and Robert, and Robert and Jerry.
That’s pretty much all this play is. But it’s riveting, nonetheless.
In the first scene, Emma and Jerry are meeting in a pub. They obviously haven’t seen each other in a while.
“Ever think of me?” she asks.
It soon becomes clear that they had an affair in the past, and she drops a bombshell: Robert has confessed to having affairs of his own, and they are going to separate. She also reveals that she has told Robert about her past affair with Jerry, and Jerry feels that, in a sense, she has now betrayed him, too, by letting Robert know.
In the next scene, Jerry and Robert talk it over, with Robert taking the news surprisingly calmly. And then we start to move backwards in time, seeing how everything got to this point.
These are well-educated, successful people, with children and mortgages and so on. Responsible people, reasonable people. Their ability to betray each other so coldly and casually, even though they know what they’re doing is wrong, makes this play — despite its dry tone — something of a modern tragedy.
“Betrayal” is a great choice for the Mile Square Theatre, which is small enough so that everyone in attendance can catch every subtle voice modulation, every poignant pause, every telling change in facial expression. Bottom line: this production should not be missed.
“Betrayal” runs through April 23 at the Mile Square Theatre in Hoboken. Visit milesquaretheatre.org.