After 22 years, Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” still doesn’t let its audience down; Soulpepper Theater Co.’s sterling revival of this work, which premiered in London back in 1978, is confirmation that “Betrayal’s” themes and their method of treatment remain as fresh and pertinent as ever.
Structurally, the play remains a tour de force. It begins in 1977, with a meeting between Emma and Jerry, two years after their seven-year extramarital affair has ended. Jerry is Emma’s husband Robert’s best friend. The nine scenes of the play take us progressively back through the years to 1968 and the electric moment when the affair began.
Bending time and space is not a new theatrical concept, of course. But what’s fascinating about “Betrayal” is that the audience begins to know more and more about the three central characters as they begin to know less and less both about themselves and about each other. Working backwards in this way, motivation and impulse become startlingly clear.
Betrayals abound: Everyone has been unfaithful to everyone else. But in this most English of plays, nobody is ever crass enough to mention broken hearts, love and passion. The characters circle warily around the deep emotion at the core of the play, chatting about squash games, the children, having a pint in the pub.
As Robert, Diego Matamoros is the epitome of British control, snapping into anger just once, yet conveying yearning and loss with myriad subtle gestures, inflections and body language. It is a brilliant performance. Susan Coyne’s Emma is equally good, evoking a complex, needy and vulnerable character. Albert Schultz’s Jerry, meanwhile, is a shallow, self-absorbed figure, concerned with no one but himself. The least analytical of the three, he knows less than anyone else what is going on, and why.
There is a slight blurring of focus in the choice to de-emphasize the Britishness of the play. Director Daniel Brooks and his cast have opted for North American accents and, to some extent, North American attitudes.
But Brooks’ direction is surefooted, intelligent and classy, as it was in last year’s Soulpepper production of Samuel Beckett’s “Endgame.” The staging is simple but effective, with some fine lighting by Andrea Lundy.
Now in its third, somewhat rocky season, Soulpepper needed a critical hit from its final mainstage show of the summer. “Betrayal” delivers it.