Harold Pinter's play "Betrayal" is a curious exercise in layering; it moves backward and forward and backward again in a confusing game with time and knowledge, ending with a disappointing flatness where other plays might begin. The current production at the Source Theatre is well-modulated and adept, though without any flash of brilliance.
When the play begins, Emma and Jerry are meeting for a drink two years after their seven-year affair ended. She tells him her marriage is breaking up and that the previous night she learned her husband had "betrayed" her numerous times, and that she, in turn, had told her husband about her affair with Jerry.
In the next scene, we learn from the husband, Robert, a book publisher, and Jerry, an agent who is his good friend, that in fact she told her husband four years earlier. Later in the play we watch the scene in which she tells him; at the same time, we know from the first scene that despite his evident distress at her revelation, he himself has been unfaithful. Or has he?
Once we have watched Emma's first deception, believing anything she says is difficult. The play displays betrayal on many levels, from the small lies about where one has been, to hiding letters, to living a dual life. Indeed, logistics play a major role in killing the affair between Emma and Jerry. She runs an art gallery and can't get away in the afternoons, and he is always traveling on business. Their love nest is unused, and their romance evidently dies for lack of scheduling. The characters don't display any obvious or grandiose emotion; whatever pain they are suffering is quiet and submerged.
In order to concentrate on each scene and not on wondering whether it happened before or after the previous one, it is advisable to keep the program with its printed chronology at hand. Somehow one feels guilty resorting to using this map, but playing with the time is one of the major elements of the play.
In the end, we are at the beginning; the beginning of Jerry and Emma's affair, which starts with a rather banal kitchen seduction during a party. Emma, as played by Carole Myers, is secretive and quietly duplicitous. Brian Hemmingsen plays Robert with a Mephistophelean look and a slightly menacing air. Of the three, he is the only one who seems to feel anything beyond annoyance or worry. Christopher Wilson's Jerry is a man who is aware of the awkwardness of his situation--having an affair with his best friend's wife--but without any moral compunctions or desire to change it. David Foster is superb in a tiny role as a waiter.
Director Dorothy Neumann has orchestrated the play tidily, although one wishes the actors did not have to be responsible for scenery changes. The mood of the production is restrained and the disquieting quietude of Pinter is not lost.
BETRAYAL, by Harold Pinter. Directed by Dorothy Neumann. Lighting by Lea Hart. With Brian Hemmingsen, Christopher Wilson, Carole Myers and David Foster.
At the Source Theatre Co. through May 29.