Might time unaccounted for, a secret flat, and reading a book while your husband is trying to talk to you signify relationship troubles?
“Betrayal,” the title of Harold Pinter’s drama on stage at North Coast Repertory Theater, is a solid clue to the answer, but seeing three great actors journey through the sorry state of affairs is far more fun than guessing.
The play opens with the last scene in their story, which unfolds in a series of flashbacks. We meet Emma (Carla Harting), and Jerry (Jeffrey Fracé) as they share drinks after not seeing each other for a while. They make idle talk at first, but Emma seems intent on bringing up their seven-year affair, though Jerry is nonchalant, avoids eye contact and offers only short replies.
Emma’s husband Robert (Richard Baird) and Jerry were once best friends and business partners. Perhaps at this point, Jerry is reflecting more on his betrayal of his best friend than the pleasures he’s shared with Emma … or could it be some latter guilt over the fact he has also betrayed his wife, Judith?
Next comes a scene with Richard flirting with his wife, Emma, to little response. Then there is a brief encounter between Robert and Jerry, who share old memories until Robert reveals he’s known about the affair all along. Jerry is startled at first and then he divulges secrets of his own.
The talents of the three actors, deftly directed by Frank Carrado, steer the enjoyment of this play. A brief appearance by Benjamin Cole, as a clueless waiter, brings much-needed comic relief during a tense scene. Emma wears her emotions on her face when she looks at Jerry with puppy-dog love in her eyes, and dutiful eyes when guilt propels her into Robert’s arms while she hugs and kisses him.
Robert exudes a strong and yet humble demeanor, which ignites in an occasional glare at Jerry or a lost, gloomy “How did this happen?” look.
It’s said Pinter (1930-2008) wrote “Betrayal” based on an affair he had. Perhaps that’s why the pain and suffering, joy and sorrow, fullness and emptiness ebb and flow convincingly, even as more details of these unfortunate lives are unveiled.