Brit scripter Harold Pinter is being favored with two local outings of “Betrayal,” his 1978 morality tale, chronicling the history of lust and deceit that destroys a marriage and disintegrates a friendship. Covering a 9½-year period, played out in reverse chronology, both productions are word-perfect and staged with impressive craftsmanship. However, only Andak Stage Company manages to thoroughly underscore the subtle emotional shifts and character giveaways that are essential to the fluidity of Pinter’s thematic throughline.
Produced at miniscule NewPlace Studio Theater, the Andak Stage Company’s staging of “Betrayal” offers a superb confluence of social sophistication, bankrupt morality and emotional instability, beginning with the opening scene, present day cocktail lounge reunion of former lovers Emma (Nike Doukas) and Jerry (Daniel Reichert), the longtime best friend of Emma’s husband Robert (Leo Marks).
Helmer John DeMita keeps the duo’s deceptively casual banter moving briskly along, setting up Emma’s gut-wrenching revelation that she and Robert had decided the night before to end their marriage. DeMita understands Pinter’s propensity for barbed understatement as Emma matter-of-factly admits she had confessed to Robert her seven-years-long affair with Jerry, once Robert revealed that he had numerous affairs of his own over the years.
This mandates the obligatory continuity scene between Jerry and Robert, wherein Robert nonchalantly reveals he had known about his wife’s affair for years and the only person who had been kept in the dark was Jerry. Marks’ Robert projects a daunting emotional superiority, transcending human frailty as he protects himself from the inadequacies of the two people he loves most dearly in the world, while offering barely perceptible but telling clues to his true state of mind.
Doukas is hauntingly fragile as the socially upright wife and mother who found giddy pleasure playing house with the first man who truly lusted after her. Doukas’s Emma is hauntingly transparent in the second scene (two years before the opening scene) when Emma and Jerry officially agree to give up their clandestine flat. Doukas projects a profound sense of loss, even while admitting to Jerry that her professional and married responsibilities were much more important to her than their scheduled coital trysts.
Reichert inhabits the role of Jerry, a relentlessly ambivalent seeker of happiness, who is no match for Robert (once he knows that Robert knows) or for Emma (once he has lost his lust for her body). Reichert exudes Jerry’s callow naiveté in the final scene (nearly ten years in the past) as he makes his first drunken foray into Emma’s heart and body, forging the path to tragedy all three will travel.