Can Synthetic Unlimited continue to provide exceptional theater, each month mounting a brand new production yet providing a first-rate experience? Apparently so, as evinced by the quality of the company’s September offering of British playwright Harold Pinter’s 1978 drama, “Betrayal.” The directing, acting and entire presentation are quite impressive.
This play, regarded as one of the Nobel Prize-winning Pinter’s major works, is about a love triangle involving a wife, her husband and his best friend and the fallout from the extramarital affair. The plot innovatively unfolds in reverse chronology, with the first scene taking place in 1977, two years after the five year affair between the wife and the best friend has ended, and the final scene illuminating the beginning of their relationship in 1968.
Pinter’s characteristically spare but realistic dialogue leaves the characters’ hidden emotions and veiled motivations to interpretation by both the characters and the audience—the spoken words are not necessarily illuminative of the speaker’s underlying meaning, whether accidentally or purposefully deceptive. Likewise, each word and phrase is subject to interpretation through the particular lens the listener is using at that moment—if he or she is feeling happy, sad, jealous, loving or hostile, the understanding can change. Just like in real life. And Pinter’s use of meaningful commas, full stops and pregnant pauses themselves speak volumes, without a word uttered. Again, like in real life.
Director Jeffrey Mason wonderfully emphasizes the non-verbal behaviors by having his actors use oblique looks, indirect gestures and unspoken emotions to skillfully convey the disquietude of the characters. And the three lead actors masterfully inhabit their parts. As the wife Emma, Grace Fae is riveting, radiating love, sadness or coyness by a simple wave of her hand or raised eyebrow. As the husband Robert, himself revealed to be a philanderer, Jimmy McCammon adroitly alternates between suspicion, anger and perverseness. Adeptly and believably rounding out the triangle, Casey Burke is Jerry, the lover of Emma and best friend of Robert. I don’t know for whom I felt more distress or empathy —or maybe for none.
Prefacing the play, which takes place in the previous dining area of The Stonehouse in Nevada City, is an hour’s entertainment in the comfortable and attractive bar. Melissa Ramsey voices melodious vintage jazz tunes to accompany a menu of English food and full bar offerings. Partaking of that hour is a lovely complement to the full evening.
An interesting aside is that Synthetic Unlimited has created somewhat of a coup, since “Betrayal” is scheduled to open on Broadway in October, starring Daniel Craig (James Bond) and his wife Rachel Weisz, with direction by Mike Nichols. If the Broadway production is at least as good as this local one, it should have a long run. However, you can save yourself a lot of money and time by avoiding New York and instead seeing the well done presentation at The Stonehouse, running only Thursday (Sept. 26), Friday and Sunday.
Hindi Greenberg is generally quite impressed with the quality of theater in Nevada County. This current production is first-rate, as was another astounding play she saw last Friday, put on by Quest Theaterworks and directed by John Deaderick with jaw-dropping performances by Lois Ewing and Trish Adair. Keep up the good work, theater people!