There is a disarming starkness that overwhelms the Aurora Theatre in their current production of Harold Pinter’s classic memory play Betrayal. From the surprisingly utilitarian set, designed by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay, to the emotionally intricate performances by the cast’s three main actors, there is a palpable callousness that the audience feels from the moment they enter the theater. Both the set and the cast provide a cold, steely exterior that serves to mask a hidden depth and versatility that is only revealed as the show goes on. However, despite some truly heart-breaking performances, the exterior coldness of the performances, in the end, make the set more compelling than the story.
Betrayal, by Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning playwright Harold Pinter, focuses on a long-standing love-triangle, and is based, in part, on the author’s own clandestine extramarital affairs. The story is told in reverse chronology from 1977 to 1968, forcing the audience to focus on the titular betrayal from start to finish, even during the scenes of optimistic love and passion. As one would assume when dealing with lies and betrayal, Pinter’s most poignant words in the play are left unspoken. Instead the actors traverse complex emotions with subtle half-truths and righteous indignation.
Standing at the center of the show’s love-triangle is Emma, played by Tess Malis Kincaid, who, with a nuanced and somber performance, again proves why she is one of Atlanta’s most respected actresses. While you don’t see the outward fire of some of her other roles, there is never a moment where you do not feel intense emotion radiating from within her.
Emma carries on a seven-year affair with her husband’s best friend, Jerry, played by her real-life husband Mark Kincaid. A staggeringly engaging actor himself, Kincaid, shows Jerry as a complicated man, who, despite his indiscretions, feels that he is the victim of a different kind of betrayal.
The third point on the triangle is Emma’s husband Robert, played by Aurora’s Producing Artistic Director, Anthony P. Rodriguez. Robert, who generally knows more than Emma or Jerry thinks he does, sardonically needles his wife and friend about their affair, despite his own betrayals. As the victim of Jerry and Emma’s infidelity, one would assume that Robert would win the audience’s sympathy; however, his desire to maintain the upper-hand makes him just as guilty as they are. Rodriguez, who has shepherded the Aurora to become one of the Atlanta-area’s most successful theaters, more than holds his own back on stage with this formidable pair.
The surprisingly impressive set is a series of doors and windows (not all functional) and roll-up walls that allow for different set pieces to enter and turn the purposely drab room into a variety of locations. Witnessing the unique functionality of this set reinforces why the Curley-Clays have become Atlanta’s most decorated designers.
The show is directed by Actor’s Express Artistic Director Freddie Ashley. While there are few explosive moments, the show has a calculated consistency that compliments Pinter’s script nicely.
Despite all of the first-rate pieces that make up the play, the fundamental darkness of the story and the general heartlessness of the characters make it difficult to fully give yourself over to the whole. However, while you most likely won’t be swept away by the show, it is more than worth seeing to witness the impressive professionalism of all involved.
Betrayal runs through October 28, 2012 at the Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville. To purchase tickets call 678-226-6222 or visit their website.
– Matt Tamanini