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Harold Pinter's Betrayal at the Lantern Theater Company

Ralph Malachowski

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posted by Ralph Malachowski on Jan 24, 2019 10:30am | comments


Harold Pinter’s 1978 play, Betrayal, is now onstage at the Lantern Theater Company in Philadelphia until February 17. It was unique in its day because of its form: the play began at the end of the story and ended with the beginning. A contemporary play which follows this format is The Last 5 Years.


Harold Pinter (1930-2008) was one of the most successful playwrights in the English language. In addition to twenty-nine plays, he wrote for television, radio, and poetry. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005. Today, many playwrights acknowledge his influence upon them and consider him one of the great writers of the 20th century.


In Betrayal, we meet three principal characters. The plot is rather basic. In its barest form the wife of one character is unfaithful with her husband’s best friend. We see the relationship over the span of nine years, beginning with 1977 and ending in 1968. We quickly come to realize that Betrayal can best be described as an enigma wrapped in a riddle. We get few concrete facts. Both men are the same age, about 36 in the 1970s (curiously similar to Pinter’s age at the time). Both men were best friends since college, one attending Cambridge, the other Oxford. Both loved poetry which served as the key to their meeting and to their friendship. Both continue to have weekly lunches. Both are publishers. Both have a famous client in common over the years. Handball seems to play a major role in their lives, as does an appreciation of Yeats, and sexual relations with the same woman. Many scenes become practical jokes. Secrets which were thought to be secrets weren’t secrets at all. The three characters wove convenient fictions about themselves and their relations to each other. All of them drank heavily by today’s standards.


Gregory Isaac is Robert, a handsome, posh intellectual with a mellifluously pornographic voice which never rises above a measured tone. Robert is keen on handball. He loves to play it, and is often cajoling his dear friend, Jerry (Jared McLenigan) to come out and play. It appears that Jerry has stopped playing with Robert once he began playing with Emma (Genevieve Perrier), Robert’s wife. At one crucial point, all three are onstage. Robert is once again teasing Jerry to play handball, something Jerry was very good at before. Emma pipes in that she should like to watch them play, and as a reward will treat them to dinner afterward. Robert, uncharacteristically, launches into a tirade about how it is for men only, and between men only. Women watching would be unthinkable. Robert continues that it’s all about manly exertion, showering afterwards, and drinking and manly banter afterwards, all very manly. Meanwhile, Jerry appears to look aghast, even guilty, at Robert’s robust discourse on the subject. Emma stares. At several points in the drama, we get these intriguing insights into Robert and Jerry’s friendship. Again, Emma is puzzled why Jerry went to America for two months with his young male protégé. Burbling awkwardly, Jerry hurriedly states, “I couldn’t let him go alone … could I?” Emma again quizzes Jerry about why he and Robert have weekly lunches together. Jerry lamely replies that Robert pays one week and Jerry pays the other week. Emma isn’t satisfied with the answer. Why, she asks again. Jerry again evasively replies because we’ve always done it. We later discover that the American trip coincided with Robert impregnating Emma with a child. If we choose to look at these events through a gay lens, was Robert jealous of Jerry’s trip with the young, talented Casey? The same author Robert refused to publish for no apparent reason, except, perhaps, for jealousy? And the fact that Robert often “plays” handball with Casey while Jerry and Emma have sex in the afternoon at their love flat? At one point, at the crucial Venice scene, Robert recognizes Jerry’s handwriting on a letter sent to Emma as being proof of their sexual encounters. We may ask how is it proof positive? This is the only time we see Robert visibly upset. One answer could be that is what Jerry used to do with Robert. Ah, betrayal!


Of course, dear reader, feel free to see Betrayal. The three actors are wonderful, as is Ryan Hagan in the curious small role of the waiter, which serves no purpose whatsoever except as comic relief, or is it only that? Is it an opportunity to showcase a young, handsome man? Betrayal is a small masterpiece which hints beguilingly at so many things while stating so little. 


For further information about Pinter’s drama Betrayal, visit .


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