It’s the Swinging ’60s in London, and a married Harold Pinter is an up-and-coming playwright.
Joan Bakewell, also married, is a BBC journalist.
When the two meet, sparks fly and an affair begins.
It lasts seven years until her husband, Michael, tells Pinter he has known of the affair for two years.
“I remember vividly Harold’s indignation at the fact that I had known for a long time about the affair without saying anything,” Michael Bakewell said in the 2007 biography, “Harold Pinter.”
“I think he personally felt betrayed.”
And, apparently, inspired.
Pinter’s 1978 “Betrayal,” which The Rogue Theatre opens in previews tonight, is about an affair that mirrors his own. Though the play at first didn’t win critic’s praise, it eventually came to be recognized as one of the major works by the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.
“One of the things that is so disquieting about it is how real it is,” says Cynthia Meier, Rogue’s co-founder and director of the play.
“We’ve all had various betrayals in our lives. Watching (the play), it’s hard not to reflect on our own lives.”
There are all kinds of betrayals in the piece — of marriage, of friendship, of time, memory, and of themselves.
Naturally, Meier and her cast have had plenty of conversations on the subject — Pinter’s works often provoke conversations.
“We’ve talked about what is betrayal,” she said. “Is it partially lying, lying to each other, not doing what we were going to do, a loss of integrity in a relationship ….”
Pinter’s concept for this play drew about as much attention as his subject matter.
The story is told in nine scenes. It begins two years after the end of the affair and goes back in time to moments in the affair. The last scene is at the beginning of the relationship.
That first scene brings together Jerry and Emma meeting in a pub for a drink. She tells him that her husband Robert discovered just the night before about the now-over affair she and Jerry had.
Come to find out, Robert has known about it for two years — which stuns Jerry. And why shouldn’t it? He was having an affair with his best friend’s wife, his best friend knew, and didn’t say a word. OK, there’s no accounting for the logic in the emotions of Pinter’s characters. Or of any human being. Which is what makes Pinter’s play so powerful.
“The reason we wanted to do this play to begin with was how beautifully the human condition is rendered,” says Meier.
That is underscored with the traveling-back-in-time conceit, says Meier.
“Any time any of us find we’ve been lied to, we look back on all the various situations and you see everything in a new light. It alters our memory because we look back in a different way.”
Pinter is known for his poetic, economical language, and his pauses — silences that are loud with meaning.
In “Betrayal,” it all adds up to a work that resonates.
“There’s something about the way Pinter writes and draws you in and makes you feel you are experiencing the betrayal and the desire with them,” she says.
“It’s beautiful. It’s riveting. And you’ll never have an affair after seeing this. It’ll certainly make you think deeply about the consequences of betrayal.”