Sunday, October 07, 2012

Aurora Theatre's Intense Betrayal

Opening scene of "Betrayal" at the Aurora Theatre, from the theatre's Facebook page.
The Aurora Theatre north of Atlanta has just opened a run of Harold Pinter's 1977 play Betrayal.   The characters -- married couple Emma and Robert, and Robert's best friend Jerry, her lover -- can't always tell what the other characters are concealing, but we in the audience can. Pinter puts us in the know by presenting scenes from 1977 backwards to 1968, so that we can "fact check" characters' recollections.  The dramatic irony and the characters' second-guessing each other make for a funny and intense experience, as layers of emotion underlie every second.  Betrayal is so funny, but so intense, that my friend Susan and I were relieved that it lasted just 75 minutes.  

Pinter once distinguished two kinds of silence, the speechless kind, but also the kind that covers feelings by "a torrent of words."   For much more on Pinter's technique, see my blogpost "A Moment of Silence for Harold Pinter".  Here, I'll review particular's of Aurora Theatre's production.

We're treated to virtuoso acting, understated to give each nuance a highlight.  For example, in the opening scene, Tess Malis Kincaid ("Emma") and her real-life husband Mark Kincaid (as the ex-lover "Jerry") each has to repeat the line "How are you?" several times, during different "rounds" of dialogue -- the scene being structured like some martial arts match.  The first time, they ask, "So how are you?" to open the conversation.  It's old friends, meeting each other on uncertain terms, falling back on polite formulas.  Another time, it's a show of deeper concern.   Later, the question "How are you?" seems to be asking something more like, "How do you feel about us?"   It's a testing of the state of the old relationship.  

Mostly sitting at a cafe table, the actress worked the tiny space given her.  Her hands on the wine glass sometimes clutched, sometimes caressed, and sometimes explored the surface.   Her head bowed when Jerry turned to refill the glasses.  That's at the end of "round one," and she seemed to be struggling to find a way to communicate, or to discern, what she wanted from Jerry. But she faced him again, smiling.

For his part, Mark Kincaid's "Jerry" seemed to be keeping a safe distance from the fight, actually pushing his chair back from the table, smiling a lot.  It's only when Emma revealed that her husband had learned all about their old affair that Mark Kincaid became animated, a clue to where "Jerry's" strongest feelings and deepest vulnerability lie.

Later, with Jerry watching, Robert unleashes one of those "torrents of words" on Emma, and his words are weapons.   Director Freddie Ashley has staged this so that Anthony Rodriguez ("Robert" and also Aurora's Producing Artistic Director) commands stage center.  Jerry stands stage right, at Robert's back; drink in hand and smiling.  Emma sits on the far left end of the sofa, legs crossed, also drink in hand, smiling.  Interrupting a little dialogue between the men about who buys lunch after the next squash game, Emma suggests that she might come to watch and buy lunch for both.  Robert starts small -- "you have your game, then your shower, then your pint" -- and becomes increasingly animated as he develops his topic: "You've been at battle, you've been at it."   By the time he says that a man "doesn't want a woman in the locker room" or even "within a mile" of the squash game, Jerry and Emma are both receiving his barely-concealed hostility behind tumblers and their frozen smiles.  

We know what Robert is thinking:  his wife's lover has gall to come visiting them to flirt with her.  Emma is in agony.   At the start of this scene, when Robert called up to her to come on down, "Jerry's here," her response, off-stage, was, "Who?"  (after a pause, natch).   Meanwhile, Jerry is simply clueless.  Does he rise to the implied challenge to defend Emma's honor?   He fails to do so, and is out the door moments later.  For the audience, it's chilling and hilarious at the same time.  There's a coda:  In silence, Emma collapses, crying.  Robert slowly comes over to her, lays his hand on her shoulder -- comfort?  possession?  It's somehow both -- and they embrace.

The rest of the show is filled with so many moments similarly rich with nuance, that discussing them makes for great conversation hours and even days after seeing the show.  

We loved the set, by Isabel and Morley Curley-Clay.  At first glance, it's a high-ceilinged interior.  But on second look we see mismatched doors, window frames superimposed on mismatched windows, empty picture frames superimposed on others -- the effect being to show us several similar interior spaces superimposed on each other:  restaurants, a hotel room, and two families' living rooms.  Wall panels opened to admit sliding beds, sofas, and a wet bar.

The production as a whole, like Pinter's script, is elegant, understated, and efficient.

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