Stage and TV vets Sophina Brown (“The Lion King,” “Numbers”), Henry Simmons (“NYPD Blue,” “Shark”) and Rick D. Wasserman (“The Lion King,” “Swingtown”) offer attractive, if incomplete, characterizations in the Playground production of Harold Pinter’s melodramatic chronicle of how Jerry (Wasserman) and Emma (Brown) stop being lovers, and Jerry and Robert (Simmons), Emma’s husband, stop being friends. Helmer Lee Eskey hits all the beats but fails to instill a true understanding of just how immature and misguided these three supposed London sophisticates really are.
Eskey certainly covers Pinter’s playing field. Through restaurant lunches, Venetian holidays and romantic afternoon getaways, Eskey confidently paces this triumvirate of jaded souls backwards in time, enabling the audience to be witness as the three retreat to the carefree camaraderie that each eventually gave up in the betrayal of their loved ones.
Brown gives a yielding, liquid performance as Emma, fluidly responding to the early overt passions of Jerry and just as easily betraying him during a family vacation in Venice when Robert confronts her about her affair. What’s missing is Emma’s understated talent for subversion, whether she is casting sly aspersions to the professional talents of Jerry and her husband, or making barely perceptible allusions to the fidelity of Jerry’s wife.
Wasserman’s Jerry says all the right words, but his protestations of love for Emma emanate from his intellect rather than from true passion. He is much more physically relaxed and emotionally free-flowing in his relationship with Robert. Totally jarring is Wasserman’s final scene falling-down-drunk romantic assault of Emma.
Simmons’ portrayal of Robert is as emotionally forthcoming as sculptured stone. Whether he is toying with Jerry at a restaurant or quietly deriding his wife when she wants to intrude on his friendship with Jerry, Robert never budges from his staunchly projected cerebral seclusion. He gives no hint ot his true feelings. It is easy to believe he simply made up his supposed extramarital affairs because it does not seem viable that Simmon’s Robert would take the time to make the effort.