Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton, Charlie Cox in Betrayal. Photo by Marc Brenner.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors
With director Jamie Lloyd at the helm, Harold Pinter's calculation of the emotional dissolution of a marriage is as cool as its pale setting by Soutra Gilmour. The curtain rises slowly, the characters move leisurely across the stage, creatively lighted by Jon Clark. A mood is set with Pinter's minimalist language forming a measured passage between lives, laden with deceit and tension.
Pinter's 1978 play, Betrayal, begins with a bitter taste sometime after the end of Emma's (Zawe Ashton) and Jerry's (Charlie Cox) seven-year affair. Their story is told in reverse chronology and, as it wheels backward, it picks apart Emma's concurrent marriage to her publisher husband, Robert (Tom Hiddleston) and ends when Jerry, an agent and Robert's oldest friend, becomes Emma's lover.
The marriage was a triangular distortion. Lloyd zooms in on these three individuals, clarifying the duplicity by keeping them always visible in the shadows of the stage through even the most intimate moments. The awkward intimacy stains their lives with pain and betrayal masked by secrets that are not secret at all.
In Venice, when Emma confesses to Robert, apparently with deep sorrow, that she has been having an affair, we see Jerry in the shadowy corner. Furthermore, Emma has spent other moments during this Venetian holiday to shop for a tablecloth for the private digs she shares with Jerry. In another scene, when Emma meets Jerry in their intimate pied-a-terre, it is Robert on the side, the husband and father.
Guilt and regret weave throughout the play, expressed by Pinter's clipped language and chilly dispassion.
Robert is deeply wounded and holds on to his pain through the years as he remains married to Emma. His hatred for Jerry smolders as he pretends not to know of his friend's ongoing affair with his wife. Nor does Jerry know of Emma's confession to Robert in Venice.
At one point, as the two men meet for a casual lunch in London, Robert viciously slashes into his prosciutto and melon antipasto as he thought might attack Jerry. While he could be confronting his friend for the deception, he says nothing about what he knows and when he knew it. To the side, Emma sits back against the wall, casually eating an apple.
Over 90 minutes, the actors, all making their Broadway debuts, are persuasive in their characterizations and their lies about the affair. The motivations, however, are veiled by tension and various indiscretions. The three never show much hairstyle or costume changes over the years, yet their emotions and actions are articulated in subtle facial and physical expressions, as taut as Pinter's dialogue. Hiddleston (Golden Globe and Olivier Award winner, The Avengers) becomes increasingly more brooding than confident over the years of the marriage. Cox (Daredevil), as Jerry, seems good-natured but has a seductive sly edge that is used to manipulating others for his own desires.
Ashton (Velvet Buzzsaw) hints of her guilt and sorrow in betraying her husband yet wholly enjoys a long liaison with Jerry. She keeps her feelings and secrets to herself, only letting them spill to others when she chooses. With an aloof demeanor, she is convincing in her love for both men.
Pinter wrote Betrayal based on his own extramarital affair and his characters' measured performances stand out in the minimalist production. The original Broadway production in 1980 starred Roy Scheider, Blythe Danner and Raul Julia. A 2000 production featured Juliette Binoche, Liev Shreiber and John Slattery and in 2013, Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and Rafe Spall appeared in the play. A film production and worldwide appearances prove its critical and popular acclaim.
Jamie Lloyd's tense psychological focus makes this fourth Broadway production well worth seeing.
Bernard Jacobs Theatre
242 - West 45th Street. NYC
Previews: Aug.14, 2019. Opening: Sept. 5, 2019. Closing: Dec. 8, 2019
Running Time: 90 min. No intermission.
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton, Charlie Cox
Playwright: Harold Pinter
Directed: Jamie Lloyd
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors, Sept. 2019 (pre-opening)
Also can be read on TotalTheater.com