For their final production of the year, the Augustana College Theatrical Society (ACTS) plumbed the depths of romantic turmoil with four performances of Harold Pinter’s play, Betrayal.
First performed on the British stage in 1978, Betrayal is a malevolent love story. Inspired by Pinter’s ill-wrought liaison with BBC journalist Joan Blakewell, it depicts the downfall of an extramarital affair in reverse. The unorthodox chronology gives audiences an unexpected perspective on some shopworn dramatic twists.
“It’s a script that could be boring at first glance,” senior Katelynn Kenney said. “It’s mostly talking – not much action, no exploding bombs. But as the story unravels you get more details. I love it for its intricacies.”
In the final performance of her Augustana career, Kenney played Emma, the wife of successful book publisher Robert (senior Jake Shama). The play, however, begins as Emma reconvenes with ex-lover Jerry (sophomore Ian Curtis), a literary agent and longtime friend of Robert.
This is only the first of several fraught interactions between the three characters. After Jerry and Emma’s first meeting, the plot cycles back through a series of fights, trysts and drunken declarations of love, eventually ending five years later at what would, in real life, be the beginning. Several lines of dialogue are repeated and reconfigured throughout the show, serving as signposts for the audience.
“I’ve seen it in novels and in movies, but not often do you see it [the reverse chronology] drawn out over a span of five years,” sophomore director Jeff Larson said.
In its portrayal of troubled domesticity, Betrayal shares several hallmarks with works like Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. As in Albee’s play, in Betrayal “there aren’t many likeable characters,” Kenney said.
The way the play was staged accentuated this quality. ACTS performed the show in the small, cubic Mary Harum Hart Actor’s Studio with audience members seated on all four sides of a chalk-marked “stage.” The resulting setup was akin to that of a boxing ring, and it turned Betrayal into an emotional sparring match.
“It’s really tricky to pull off in such an intimate space,” sophomore Ian Curtis said. “People feel like they are invading into their [the characters’] personal lives.”
As an audience member, junior Ellen Ferry echoed this sentiment.
“The seating arrangement really complimented the tone of the show,” Ferry said. “It was as if I was in the same room as the characters rather than simply watching them from afar.”
From a technical standpoint, it was also a challenge to block scenes so that they would be accessible to every viewer, regardless where his or her seat was located.
“Depending on where you sit, you get the story in a different way,” Larson said. “I have to make sure I can tell the story and make sure every audience member gets their fill.”
On the whole, Larson believes that, despite its eccentricities, the show was a hit with audiences.
“We have a lot of good feedback,” he said. “I thought it was a success.”