Oak Park Festival Theatre has launched a year-round season. Their new production of Nobel prize-winner Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” opened on the late British playwright’s 80th birthday Sunday evening in the store-front performance space at 1010 Madison St. The acting is especially superb.
This intriguing, three-character dark comedy explores the stages of an extramarital affair. It’s one of Pinter’s major works and it’s quite accessible.
The unique twist here is that this study of marital infidelity is told in reverse chronological order. The play runs backwards, moving further and further into the past. The first scene takes place in the late 1970s, several years after a couple’s affair has ended. The final scene closes just as their romance begins with a flirtation at a 1968 house party.
Kevin Christopher Fox effectively directs with an intense but unhurried pace.
The drama runs approximately 80 minutes with no intermission.
The play, which explores the self-deceptions and hidden emotional traps of “cheating,” was inspired by Pinter’s own seven-year extramarital affair with a married BBC presenter. But this work is not just autobiographical gossip; it’s a fascinating show that provides lots of food for thought. I’d advise seeing it with someone who enjoys discussing a play after it’s over.
“Betrayal” portrays the interlocking romantic lives of three friends. Robert (Mark Richard) and Emma (Kathy Logelin), who are husband and wife, and Jerry (Ian Novak), who was Robert’s college buddy and his best man at their wedding.
In the first scene Emma and Jerry are having a quiet drink in a pub after having ended their affair. The two make awkward small talk while attempting to catch up on one another’s lives. In a chilly bit of reminiscing they recall their affair and the flat they rented for their romantic meetings.
Emma feels betrayed and angry when she learns her husband Robert has also had affairs, oblivious about her own cheating with Jerry. Jerry feels betrayed that Emma revealed their affair to Robert.
Some might view this work as a cautionary tale on the perils of infidelity. The couple believes they’ve created the perfect private romance but their dialogue reveals their own self-deceptions. Despite their efforts to hide their romance, it seems Robert knew about their affair all along.
Emma seems to need more emotionally than either of these guys can give.
The men share many things — careers in publishing, long business lunches together, frequent squash games, and the fact that they’re both in love with Emma. Scenes of the affair alternate with scenes of the two male friends together.
I’m no expert on Pinter but it often seems like his characters seldom connect in a direct, straightforward manner. There are no screaming matches or ugly, embarrassing confrontations. These folks are British, remember. They always appear proper and poised with their emotions suppressed. Their dialogue is brittle and witty but they epitomize culture and civility.
Logelin is especially touching, often revealing Emma’s pain through her eyes.
Nathan Pease provides comic support as an Italian waiter.
You may recall the 1997 “backwards” episode of “Seinfeld” called “The Betrayal.” Also structured in reverse chronology: Jerry and his friends traveled to India to attend the wedding of an Indian friend called Pinter.
One often hears about “Pinter pauses” but here there was nothing that seemed artificial or awkward. The acting and direction are quite smooth; the leads have their British accents down pat without seeming artificial or over-the-top.
The long affair, if you’re concerned, is never graphically depicted. There is nothing vulgar or lurid.
Andrea Ball’s simple set design works well in this intimate performance space where the audience is practically seated within touching range of the actors. There are three abstract windows. A variety of locations, from an Italian restaurant to a London flat, are suggested by a simple rearranging of a few pieces of furniture.
Emily Waecker’s costume design works well. The performers seem to peel off layers of attire to quickly suggest the backwards chronology. The lighting by Sara Lauryn Gorsky is especially nicely done.
The performance area has seating on two sides, another new approach in this intimate space.
It’s exciting to see Oak Park Festival Theatre mounting this solid production in a new indoor setting.