Naming William Shakespeare and Harold Pinter as his favorite playwrights, actor Richard Baird is overjoyed to be playing Robert in Pinter’s “Betrayal” at North Coast Repertory Theatre.
Written in 1978, the five-character play is labeled “passionate, explosive and surprisingly funny.” It unfolds in reverse chronology to tell the tale of two couples, a love triangle, betrayed friendships and shocking revelations.
“One of the things I find so exciting and interesting about this play, as much as the affair itself, is the betrayal factor,” Baird said. “We’re really uncovering what the different betrayals are and there are quite a few … they all betray one another.
“The writing is fantastic and concise, and the structure of this play is fascinating. It’s almost like looking at a Mozart concerto with the wonderful way the scenes mirror one another. The first scene is actually the last; the last scene is actually the first; and the other scenes are arranged backwards.
“Pinter’s my favorite playwright after Shakespeare, and as different as Shakespeare and Pinter are, they’re similar in the way they relish the language. There are certain words Pinter will pick out that are really fantastic and you have to savor them and not change them because it would mess up the rhythm or alter the content.
“One of the things that make the story more than just a pulp fiction romantic novel is that the husband, throughout most of the play, knows about the affair. There’s also that added betrayal because he doesn’t tell his friend he knows, which as we often see in Pinter, is the one-upmanship in trying to mark territory. So after all these years, Robert is delighted, and the fact that he has this information over them — as painful as it is for him — he can just hold onto this little secret.”
Frank Corrado directs the production and he and Baird have worked together before. Baird is founding artistic director of the New Fortune Theatre Company.
Baird said he usually has one favorite scene he looks forward to, but in Pinter’s “Betrayal” there are several.
“I really love all the scenes because I think the language is so fantastic,” he said. “Scene five, the Venice scene, is wonderfully compact as there’s so much going on underneath the surface. There’s a restaurant scene where Robert is getting really drunk and trying not to show that he’s upset. It’s a lot of fun.”
Baird said departing a Shakespeare or Pinter play is an invitation for conversation among playgoers. “If you listen to everything they’re saying in a Pinter play, there are hundreds of questions you can leave the theater asking yourself. I, personally, find that more fulfilling than telling an audience what to think or having a message for them. Because, in real life, we have an idea of what might happen in our day, but we don’t know what’s coming around the corner, and Pinter is one of the only playwrights that I feel does know … ‘Betrayal,’ hopefully, will have audiences talking about it for weeks to come and wondering what it all meant.”