The Rogue Theatre has taken us to theatrical church.
The company’s current offering, Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal,” could have been overwrought and tedious. The Rogue’s production is as eloquent and heart-wrenching as the playwright surely intended.
“Betrayal” starts at the end of an affair and ends at the beginning. It lushly sets out betrayals of all sorts — love, memory, trust, emotions. The production, directed with a knowing hand by Cynthia Meier, kept us hanging on for each second of the play’s 90 intermission-free minutes.
Pinter is famous for his pauses, and they are often overplayed. Meier and her cast understood that the pauses reflect what happens in real life — a struggle to find words when emotions are too big, or time to gather the senses, contain fury, or to understand what was said and what you want to say.
This cast — Marissa Garcia as Emma, who is married to Robert, played by Matt Bowdren, and lover to Robert’s best friend, Jerry, shaped by Ryan Parker Knox — made sure each pause was packed with subtext. We knew when they were struggling, thinking, agonizing. But it was never in an actorly way — they were the same pauses that pepper our daily lives.
And that made this play, based on the married Pinter’s affair with a woman who was likewise married, full and anxious and so very, very real.
Garcia’s Emma often fought with her emotions — Emma is not a woman who wears them on her sleeve. Bowdren’s Robert, an erudite book publisher who hates being betrayed, but not enough to deny indulging in some betrayals of his own, was contained and very British, but all the while radiating a vibe that violence was just under the surface. Knox gave his Jerry a furious passion and a not-too-well-honed conscience. (Patrick Baliani had a small role as a grumpy Italian waiter, and it came off as though that’s exactly his role in life, rather than the English professor, playwright and occasional actor that Baliani actually is.)
The cast kept this production moving with a clarity and often-suppressed passion that gave full breath to Pinter’s script. There’s a terrible toll to be paid when betrayals happen: Friendships corrode, marriages dissolve, pain is inflicted, and perhaps worst of all, our souls are diminished. As we watch this story unravel backwards, the awful cost is tragically clear. You almost want to jump up and say, “Stop! Don’t do this to yourselves. To each other. It’s not worth it!”
It made for an experience that renewed my faith that theater can inform, excite and provoke with humor, story and great depth — and do it all without being one bit self-conscious or ponderous.
Sometimes it’s tempting to roll one’s eyes at Rogue’s mission to create theater that challenges its audience.
It has the potential to come off as too earnest or pretentious. But more often than not, The Rogue delivers theater that resonates. It’s honest, thrilling and yes, challenging. And not one bit worthy of eye-rolls.
“Betrayal” is one such production. Hallelujah.