Pacific Resident Theatre Presents
by Harold Pinter

August 15, 2002
Anne Kelly-Saxenmeyer, Santa Monica Mirror contributing writer

Set in tight rooms amid tangled attachments, Harold Pinter’s economical study of broken relationships, “Betrayal,” is an ideal tenant for the Pacific Resident Theatre’s intimate space—and it’s very well served by director Tom McDermott’s smooth, bare staging. Beneath the simplicity of its outward gestures, the production hits the complexity packed into Pinter’s nine chiseled scenes.

The play, which centers on the personal lives of Emma, her husband Robert and his best friend Jerry, who is also Emma’s lover, derives much of its impact from its unusual structure. The action begins two years after the end of Emma and Jerry’s affair, as Robert and Emma’s marriage is coming to an end. From there, Pinter moves backward, tracing in reverse the devolution of all three relationships, so that we are left, at the finish, with a bright portrait of doomed passion: Jerry romantically, albeit drunkenly, professing his devotion to Emma in the bedroom she shares with Robert, as a party goes on outside the door.

McDermott’s cast does an excellent job of locating the humor, violence and poetry in Pinter’s prose. Emma’s progression from disillusioned ex-wife and ex-lover to the stunning object of double affection is poignant in the hands of Suzanne Ford. One of Ford’s most memorable scenes comes in the winter of Emma and Jerry’s affair, as we are introduced to the couple’s secret flat—once the scene of lustful afternoons, now used too infrequently to justify the expense. Stephen Hoye provides an apt portrayal of Jerry, the married literary agent whose ardor is tempered by practicality, and who looks upon his betrayals with a selective eye. Hoye is particularly successful at bringing out the comedy in Jerry’s skewed perception, as when Emma asks if he has ever been unfaithful, and he answers: “To whom?” Richard Fancy, whose style could not be better suited to Pinter’s dialogue, is perfectly cast as Robert, the also unfaithful publisher who is often in the position of knowing more of his loved one’s betrayals than they think he knows. Fancy gets the maximum bite out of each line and offers an especially wicked rendition of Robert’s treatise on the incompatibility of women and squash, designed to punish and humiliate Emma in front of her oblivious lover. By not adding anything extraneous, McDermott allows the structural brilliance and verbal density of Pinter’s play to take precedence. An efficient, relatively unadorned visual design by John Berger (set) and Eran James (lighting) makes for a brisk, graceful unfolding, even offering time orientations (“Two years earlier,” etc.) in projection, for those who neglect to read the scene list. With this minimal design and its carefully wrought performances, the production manages to burst the boundaries of its small space, much as Pinter explodes the smallest, most seemingly benign phrases.

“Betrayal” presented by Jake Arnette for the Pacific Resident Theatre, 705 1/2 Venice Blvd., Venice. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m. Sun. 3 p.m. Aug. 10-Oct. 5. $20-$23.50. (310) 822-8392.

Pacific Resident Theater