I read sometime this summer that Mike Nichols was directing a revival of *Betrayal* on Broadway, with a killer cast: Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz, and Rafe Spall. I’ve been blown away by every Pinter play I’ve seen, so I was very excited about this. I got tickets for me, Richard, and my best friend Karen.
It was dazzling. The play itself is so brilliant - - it takes the oldest story in the book, a married couple and the husband’s best friend, who’s having an affair with the wife, and he does it in a completely original way. They’re the only three characters in the play (I’m not counting the waiter who appears in one scene). Most remarkably, Pinter structures the nine scenes so that they generally happen in reverse. Here’s the chronology of the scenes, with the order they happen in the play on the left and the chronological order on the right:
Scene 1: 8
Scene 2: 9
Scene 3: 7
Scene 4: 6
Scene 5: 3
Scene 6: 4
Scene 7: 5
Scene 8: 2
Scene 9: 1
The play starts with a scene where the wife and the lover meet sometime after they’ve stopped seeing each other, they’re discontented and disconnected. And the play ends nine years earlier, with the two of them first getting it on. It’s a chilling way to watch their story.
Pinter is well-known for two techniques, which he uses in abundance in this play. First, he has the characters talking about something innocuous with a strong subtext of what they’re actually talking about. Like in one scene, the husband is talking with his friend about modern literature, but what he’s actually saying is, “How could you have an affair with my wife?” This makes the friend very uncomfortable, because the husband isn’t actually saying what he wants to say - - is he baiting him? It made ME very uncomfortable, in the best possible way. The other thing he does, which is even more anxiety-inducing, is the Pinter Pause. This is a pause in the middle of a conversation, in which everything that isn’t being said remains unsaid, but unlike the previous technique, it’s not being covered up by something else being said. The whole audience seems to hold its breath. Mike Nichols directed the play masterfully, it was elegant and fierce.
All three actors were fantastic. I was most excited to see Daniel Craig, aka The Sexiest Man Alive (according to People magazine, though my choice would be Richard Yaeger), and he totally delivered the goods as the husband. He started his career onstage (he played the Mormon, Joe Pitt, in the original London production of *Angels in America*) and he’s very powerful and comfortable onstage. His real-life wife, Oscar winner Rachel Weisz, played the wife. She won the 2010 Olivier Award (London’s Tony Award) for best actress for her performance of Blanche in *A Streetcar Named Desire*. She was extraordinary - - more than either of the men, she conveyed the progression of her character, from a chilly, worn out woman in her forties to a frisky, vibrant woman in her thirties. Effortless and stunning. Rafe Spall was the one member of the cast I didn’t know, I’d never heard of him, though I know the work of his father, Timothy Spall - - he played the Mikado in *Topsy Turvy*, Wormtail in the *Harry Potter* movies, and Churchill in *The King’s Speech*. Karen loved Rafe Spall, and he was very good, totally held his own, but Richard and I weren’t as taken with him. I guess, with three characters, someone has to be not as good as the other two, and that was him.
I have to say a word about the set, one of the most glorious sets I’ve ever seen onstage. The location shifts in each scene, and each time the floor would slowly slide to the side and another set would slide on from the other side, while the walls would float up while another set of walls floated down. And music during this. The one exception was the central scene, in Venice, in which the previous scene’s set slid to the side to reveal a large hole in the floor, up from which rose a bed. This small shift in the scene-shifting pattern gave that scene extra impact. Brilliant.
You know how at the end of the decade I do a Decade In Review email, about the best things I saw/ate/wore over the course of the decade? About a half hour into the show I thought, “This might end up on that list.”