If revenge is a dish best served cold, betrayal is one apparently lubricated by plenty of booze.
A stunning revival of Harold Pinter's "Betrayal" opened Sunday at the Barrymore Theatre with alcohol flowing in every one of its nine scenes: Beer, red wine, scotch, vodka, white wine. Repeatedly cheating on your spouse clearly necessitates liquid courage.
Director Mike Nichols adds more spirits than even Pinter's script suggested, a way the master craftsman can connect the scenes and explain the stiff-upper-lip repression on the stage. Liquor is the lubrication that keeps each participant from going on a table-flipping screaming rant or utterly collapsing. Nichols proves once again - as if anyone needed it - that he is brilliant at stripping away everything that is not the meaning of the play.
Pinter's work, ultimately, is about a triangular relationship - wife, husband and husband's best friend, who all care for each other - that uses reverse chronology to chart the corrosive force of infidelity. This is clearly not a date-night play: More than one couple shifted uneasily in their seats during one recent performance.
Superbly acted by Rachel Weisz, Daniel Craig and Rafe Spall, the production sparkles in its simple, powerful beauty. The fact that Craig and Weisz are married in real life adds a dash of spice to performances roiling under the surface.
Ian MacNeil's handsome sets - lit gorgeously by Brian MacDevitt - drift in and out of view in pieces effortlessly, as if reinforcing the notion of hazy memories. A stuffed animal in one scene casually tossed aside is a reminder of the stakes involved. James Murphy, best known as part of LCD Soundsystem, makes an auspicious Broadway debut with between-scenes instrumental music that puts punctuations on moments without undermining them.
Weisz is luminous - pitiful in a scene when she confesses her affair, toussled and off-kilter when in deep infatuation and yet also coolly disconnected in a scene in her love nest at the end of the secret relationship. Craig still has some 007 swagger about him but it falls away in scenes when his cuckold anger keeps bubbling beneath his calm surface.
"I hope she looked after you all right," he says sharply to his friend at one confrontation. It doesn't get much more venomous than that. When he confronts his wife and she confesses to a years-long affair with his best friend, this is all he has: "Must be a bit awkward. I mean we've got two kids, he's got two kids, not to mention a wife. ..."
But it's Spall, making his Broadway debut, who perhaps shines the brightest as the best friend who wears his emotions on his sleeve the most. Spall is jittery and passionate and conveys the horror and paranoia of a man hiding his true feelings to both his best friend and the man's wife.
Pinter based the play on an affair he had with a television newscaster when he was married in the 1960s. It movingly captures the highs of intoxicating love and the hurt when real life intrudes.
This production is also shot through with humor - dark, perhaps, but very present. Much of it comes from the peculiar calmness of all three main actors, who all love each other so much that they can't stop hurting each other. It would drive you to drink, too.
Beautiful people doing ugly things always attracts attention.
Since one of the world’s most beautiful couples — Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz — signed on as cheating spouses in “Betrayal,” Harold Pinter’s 1978 drama has been the hottest ticket in town. There’s clamoring at the stage door and scalping on the sidewalks.
But is it worth the hubbub and the hype? Actually, yes.
The big-screen James Bond and “The Constant Gardener” Oscar winner are smashing and sexy in Mike Nichols’ graceful and stealthily devastating production of Pinter’s autobiographical play.
Craig is Robert, a publisher. Weisz is his wife, Emma, a gallery owner. Joining them as Jerry is a new face, Rafe Spall, playing Robert’s best friend and the ultimate backstabber.
Jerry poaches Emma and carries on a seven-year affair with her — love nest included.
That’s not a spoiler — Pinter essentially reveals the entire plot in the first scene of this streamlined drama, which moves in reverse from the late ’70s to the late ’60s.
Over that period, Emma and Jerry betray Robert. Then Emma betrays Jerry by telling her husband all about the affair. And Robert gets in on it too, betraying Jerry by not telling him he’s onto the cheating. Oh, and he’s also cheating on Emma.
It’s a story about who knew what, and when.
Treacherous stuff, marriage — and friendship.
“Betrayal” is provocative and nasty, but being English, it’s all very civilized. In an American version, there’d be screaming and F-bombs all night long. Not here. It’s cerebral, subtle and surprisingly polite.
So it takes the right cast to bring it to life. This cast does.
As the Judas with a jones for his best bud’s wife, London-born Spall stuns in making Jerry an Everyguy — funny, easy to like and unimposing. Only late do we see his mercenary side.
Weisz, a London stage veteran making her Broadway debut, is fetching as Emma. She plays her with heart-on-sleeve girlishness. Smart move. Too implacable, Emma would just be ruthless.
Craig proved his stage chops in the 2009 cop drama “A Steady Rain.” Here, with Kirk Douglas-style ’70s hair, Craig brings a virility and vibrant expressiveness to Robert. His character changes the most in terms of temperament, and he never misses a beat as he transitions from who cares to profound hurt.
Like cheaters slinking around in the night, Nichols’ production moves quietly and purposefully. During his long career, Nichols has proven himself a master of intricate intimacy. He knows how to zero in on humor and pain and make it all burrow deep into your skin. And into your brain.
It’s a play in which everyone loses — except the audience.
With its flashy pedigree — stars Daniel “007” Craig and his real-life wife, Rachel Weisz, plus powerhouse director Mike Nichols — Broadway’s new revival of “Betrayal” was a hot ticket before rehearsals even started.
When $500 premium seats are selling based on reputation alone, you don’t need to be a masterpiece.
The good news is that while the production isn’t a lightning bolt of brilliance, it’s also sturdy and absorbing.
But then, the play’s construction forces you to pay attention.
In 1978’s “Betrayal,” Harold Pinter tracks an adulterous triangle over roughly a decade — and in roughly reverse chronological order. In the first scene, ex-lovers Emma (Weisz) and Jerry (Rafe Spall) meet in a pub in 1977, two years after their breakup. The show concludes with their initial kiss, at a party, in 1968.
In between, we check in on the duo and Emma’s husband, Robert (Craig), through the years. (Jerry’s married, too, but his wife is never seen and doesn’t seem to factor much into anybody’s thoughts.)
In the opening scene, Emma informs Jerry that she’s just told her husband — who’s also Jerry’s best friend — about their affair. Or so she says: In the next scene, Robert casually tells Jerry he’s known about them for years.
When the play starts going backwards in time, you scrutinize the characters for clues, slips, revealing smiles or frowns. Who knows what when? In a web of lies, information is more important than sentiment.
Pinter, inspired by a seven-year affair of his own, writes with manipulative precision. There’s a contained fury in the merciless way with which he approaches Emma, Robert and Jerry. At times, you feel as if he’s less interested in feelings than in the clever perspective-altering plot mechanics.
This impression is reinforced in this production, which looks great but is emotionally distant and a tad too tasteful. Ian MacNeil’s stylish sets glide smoothly in and out as we move through the years and places — a pub, a studio apartment for illicit sex, a hotel room in Venice. Departing from his usual dance-music exuberance, former LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy contributes a restrained piano-and-string score.
It’s all cool and self-controlled, as is Weisz’s performance. The English actress — who memorably played another adulterous wife in the 2011 movie “The Deep Blue Sea” — has a stunning, warm beauty, but it’s paired with emotional opacity. She cries in half of her scenes, yet it’s hard to get a sense of what Emma actually wants.
Saddled with feathered, dirty-blond ’70s hair, Craig gives us a blunt Robert who seems to care less about losing his wife than his best friend.
“I’ve always liked Jerry,” Robert coldly tells Emma after discovering her cheating. “To be honest, I’ve always liked him rather more than I’ve liked you. Maybe I should have had an affair with him myself.”
As the man in the middle, Spall — the son of jowly character actor Timothy Spall, the rat of the “Harry Potter” films — makes the strongest impression as a man torn between desire and guilt.
At the end, which is the beginning, Jerry is carefree and daring. We already know a decade of lies and cheating awaits.
This is the kind of insight that makes “Betrayal” a play worth revisiting — its very structure encourages multiple viewings. Just not at $500 a pop.
So just how sexy is it? Oh, admit it. That’s the biggest question on your mind. You didn’t pay all that money for tickets to “Betrayal” because it was written by the Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter, the great master of existential dread and the vagaries of memory.
No, I’ll bet what lured you to the box office at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, where “Betrayal” opened on Sunday night in a crude and clunky production, was the prospect of seeing in the flesh one Daniel Craig. He, of course, is Bond, James Bond, to most of us — a man widely perceived, especially by women of a certain age, as the hunkiest actor in movies.
It doesn’t hurt that Mr. Craig is playing opposite his real-life wife, the beautiful, Oscar-winning movie star Rachel Weisz. Or that the subject of the play, at least on its most literal level, is marital infidelity. And that the number of central characters is a magical three (the other being played by Rafe Spall), which titillates with triangular possibilities.
Throw in that the director is Mike Nichols, whose name is a byword for deeply knowing urbanity, and you have a recipe for classy eroticism, a New Yorker’s favorite form of catnip. No wonder the show was breaking box-office records even before it opened.
And — oh, dear — here comes the part where some killjoy critic (that would be me) pours ice water on steaming anticipation. If you already have tickets to “Betrayal,” don’t read another word of this review. You will indeed be able to see Mr. Craig in the flesh, and that flesh (though covered up by suits and downtime civvies) looks great.
A respectable stage actor before he became 007, he brings the same fierce intensity to talking that he does to zipping across moving trains and zapping supervillains. Not that such overt intensity is exactly what “Betrayal” asks for, but never mind. As for Ms. Weisz, she looks smashing. And let me add that she, Mr. Craig and Mr. Spall seem to be having the kind of rowdy old time you associate with moldy British sex farces, though that’s a genre in which I would never before have thought to include “Betrayal.”
As for sensual content? O.K., there is one brutally sexy scene in this intermission-free, 90-minute drama of love and perfidy among the literati. That’s when Robert (Mr. Craig), a publisher, and his wife, Emma (Ms. Weisz), who runs an art gallery, suddenly find themselves at home alone together (in one of Ian MacNeil’s floating sets) after the departure of a visitor. That’s Jerry (Mr. Spall), a literary agent and Robert’s best friend, who also happens to be having a long-running affair with Emma, which Robert by this point knows (though Jerry doesn’t know that he knows).
Once Jerry leaves, Emma starts to cower and tremble as if she expects Robert to hit her. Instead he kisses her — hard and bruisingly — and then forces her onto the sofa where he starts to undress her. Between you and me, I’m not really sure how much Emma wants what’s coming, even if Robert is Daniel Craig. But it’s an unsettling, uncomfortable moment, fraught with blurred layers of love, hate and power.
Let me pause here to give you Pinter’s original stage directions for that moment: “Robert returns. He kisses her. She responds. She breaks away, puts her head on his shoulder, cries quietly. He holds her.” That suggests rather a different tone, no?
There are no stage directions, either, for the simulated copulation (she’s on top) that takes place here between Jerry and Emma in the love nest where they meet for erotic matinees. Nor is there any indication in the script regarding the scene in which the affair between them begins, that he is as drunk as any jerk in a “Hangover” movie, and she is smoking pot.
By the way, just to be clear, that beginning-of-the-affair scene occurs at the end of the play, which is told in reverse chronology. This structure is usually something worth discussing — about what it says about time and memory and the attrition of hope — but in this case, I’m not going to bother.
You see, this is not a “Betrayal” to leave you brooding and melancholy about our capacity to wound one another and to reach out, hopelessly and heroically, for a sustenance in others that they can never provide. That’s how I usually feel after seeing “Betrayal” (and I’ve seen a lot, with pleasure), most recently Ian Rickson’s exquisite London production of two years ago, starring Kristin Scott Thomas.
But this is a sexed-up “Betrayal,” which is not the same as a sexy “Betrayal.” All those contradictory, fleeting, haunting shades of thought that you expect to see playing on the features of Pinter’s characters are nowhere in evidence.
Instead, Robert, Emma and Jerry make up the rowdiest, most extroverted sexual triangle since Liza Minnelli, Burt Reynolds and Gene Hackman caterwauled their way through the ill-fated film “Lucky Lady” in 1975. And I can safely say that this production has the highest decibel level of any version I have encountered.
I suppose you could conceivably argue, generously, that with volume comes clarification. Certainly, the abiding Neanderthal aspects of manhood — a subtext in Pinter’s power plays — have seldom been more violently rendered than they are in Mr. Craig’s shouted fulminations, Mr. Spall’s flustered stammerings or even in Ms. Weisz’s good-ole-gal heartiness. But it does make it hard to believe that these people could ever possibly deceive one another, when their faces keep reading like large-print telegrams.
Let me add that I have never before heard such steady laughter during a performance of “Betrayal.” So maybe if you go expecting a rowdy, dirty comedy (“Run for Your Wife” with references to Yeats) you won’t be disappointed.
It’s possible that Mr. Nichols wanted to revitalize a much-performed classic by introducing some of the sexual cynicism and contempt for men as the lout of the species that characterized his 1971 “Carnal Knowledge.” But as in that movie, it’s hard to care what happens to these rambunctious, thick-skinned souls.
Plays never seem to stay one size, do they? The current revival of “The Glass Menagerie” makes you realize that it was bigger than you remembered. By comparison, this “Betrayal” shrivels Pinter’s play to the dimensions of the minor tale of infidelity that London critics called it when the show first opened in 1978. Time may have proved those critics wrong, but this production seems determined to show that they were right, after all.
"Betrayal" has always been the least elusive -- the least Pinteresque -- of all Harold Pinter's major power-plays. And this hot-ticket revival, directed by Mike Nichols and starring superlunary couple Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, may be the least Pinteresque "Betrayal" we will ever see.
The success of Nichols' warm and approachable production depends on one's willingness to let go, for 90 entertaining minutes, of the late British playwright's mastery of the extreme mysteries of humanity. I'm willing, but with reservations.
The dazzling 1987 drama dissects adultery and a broken marriage mostly backward in nine scenes, from 1977 to 1968 -- from the end of the affair to the beginning. The production has been lusciously cast with Craig and Weisz as Robert and Emma, the married couple, and Rafe Spall as Jerry, the close friend with whom she has carried on, perhaps not always in secret, for seven years.
As Craig proved to Broadway when he played a quietly desperate cop in "A Steady Rain" in 2009, the actor is far more than Bond, James Bond. As Robert, a book publisher, he begins with a dapper, sardonic edge and lets us watch that famous granite profile crumble.
Weisz, impressively subtle Off-Broadway 12 years ago in Neil LaBute's "The Shape of Things," is commanding and grand fun to watch in her Broadway debut as the gallery owner/mother with a life on the side, though this Emma feels more clingy than the one Pinter wrote. Spall is less an obvious seducer than a puppy with teeth as Jerry, the married book agent, who, in this version, at times seems almost as attracted to the husband as to the wife.
Nichols' 2012 Tony-winning revival of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" expressed a profound connection with the heart and the content. For his first work with this far more ambiguous playwright, Nichols wisely chose his most overly emotional, accessible work.
If Pinter wrote in cool, witty line drawings, Nichols colors them in with robust clarity and broadens the wit to sex-comedy humor. Where Pinter leaves us to question the depth of Robert's distress, Nichols clears that up by having Craig sloppy drunk by the time Jerry arrives for lunch. When we finally see the first frisson of Jerry and Emma's affair in 1968, Nichols piles on the time-machine cliches by getting them high on marijuana.
Ian MacNeil's tidy sets change scenes by raising the walls and sliding in furniture, though a backdrop of moving gondolas in Venice feels overproduced for the style. Ann Roth's costumes are period perfect. The play remains a tight knot of emotional devastation and the lethal unraveling of everyday deceit. The mysteries are not just who did what to whom, but what did anyone know and when did he or she know it.
Pinter liked to say that "life is more mysterious than plays make it out to be." By probing too many psychological motivations, Nichols makes these people understandable but awfully ordinary.
If you've spied an ad for the hottest ticket on Broadway this season, you've seen their names in bright capital letters set against simple, stark black: Daniel Craig. Rachel Weisz. Rafe Spall. Mike Nichols. Harold Pinter.
Spall, if you're wondering, is the accomplished British actor now making his Main Stem debut opposite a famous married couple in Pinter's Betrayal (** ½ out of four stars), directed by Nichols. The couple, played by film stars Craig and Weisz, are both fine, experienced stage actors, and Nichols' most recent Broadway triumph was a harrowing 2012 revival of Death of a Salesman.
Sadly, though, this new production of a very different 20th-century classic, which opened Sunday at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, doesn't pack as much punch as you'd hope it would.
Pinter's 1978 play moves backward and, in a few cases, jolts slightly ahead in time, tracing the adulterous affair between Emma and Jerry, a literary agent and the longtime best friend of her husband, Robert. The characters — respectively played by Weisz, Spall and Craig — are clever types who can use language deceptively, even brutally, yet they also struggle to express themselves, as people grappling with intense jealousy and desire will.
This is, on its face, hardly unfamiliar terrain for Nichols, who in his stage and screen work has dealt adroitly with a variety of troubled relationships and the bitterness that accompanies them. But Pinter's dialogue makes very specific demands. There are those deliberate silences that can, if not played skillfully, drag, and power plays that, disguised as mundane conversations, require a delivery that's nuanced without seeming mannered.
Too often, this Betrayal seems to make the same statement as its marketing campaign. We're reminded that we are watching great thea-tuh, staged by a prestigious company, rather than being titillated or moved by the longing and anguish and bile that courses through the play's triangle.
Weisz's Emma can be earthy to the point of seeming blowsy, giggling and wiping her nose between sips of booze. Yet somehow the performance seems studied — that of an elegant actress showing us a cultured but tempestuous woman with her guard down. She has one wonderful, crushing scene with Craig, when Robert essentially shames his wife into a confession; cowering and crying out, Weisz conveys despair, rather than just projecting it.
Craig is crisp and robust throughout, deftly illustrating Robert's capacity for menace, and he and Spall have some witty fun with the festering rivalry between the two buddies. But at length, their exchanges — while absorbing enough for those who enjoy watching educated Brits struggle with their feelings — never really draw blood.
Between scenes, there is tasteful, rueful music, composed by James Murphy and orchestrated with piano and strings. It's fitting accompaniment for a Betrayal that, for all its grace and talent, feels strangely subdued.
Anyone who shelled out the big bucks to see James Bond in the flesh will get more than they bargained for in Mike Nichols’ impeccable revival of “Betrayal.” They’ll be getting a powerful performance from Daniel Craig, a movie star who still has his stage legs. Rachel Weisz, Craig’s wife in the real world, and Rafe Spall, both superb, claim much of the stage time as the adulterous lovers in this enigmatic 1978 play that Harold Pinter based on one of his own extramarital affairs. But it’s the smoldering Craig, as the cuckolded husband, whose brooding presence is overpowering.
The lyrical scrap of curtain-raising music (composed by James Murphy) that introduces the play fairly gushes with promises of love and romance. That marks the first ironic reversal in this endlessly fascinating play, because the opening scene, set in 1977, actually takes place in a dreary pub, where two onetime lovers are poking at the dead ashes of an old affair.
After awkward pleasantries about their respective spouses, families, and current lovers, it comes out that Emma (Weisz, movie-star gorgeous, but with bona fide acting chops) and Jerry (Spall, a revelation, could probably play anything handed to him) had a seven-year affair. Their love affair is long over, but no longer a secret because Emma has finally confessed all to her husband, Robert (Craig), a high-powered London publisher who happens to be Jerry’s best friend.
Trying to make the best of a bad thing, Jerry tries to apologize to his friend, only to learn that Robert has known about the affair for years — and rather assumed that Jerry knew he knew. Staged by Nichols as a close encounter in a tightly contained space, the scene drips with menace. Although the dialogue is quite civilized and utterly British, the underlying tone of Robert’s lines and the flashes of fury on Craig’s craggy face (even as he extends an invitation to play a friendly game of squash) give away the unspoken emotions at play. The repeated references to squash are positively chilling, and if custom allowed, we’d stand up and warn Jerry: Don’t you dare go onto the squash court with this guy — he will kill you dead!
Pinter being Pinter, the most shattering emotions are felt, but not expressed, in the silences between words. Nichols’ sense of timing in these subdued moments is infallible, allowing his actors to speak volumes about the inner lives of their characters without moving their lips.
Having established his theme of betrayal, Pinter explores it from every angle in scenes that play out in reverse chronology, tracking the affair from its downbeat ending in the couple’s love nest in 1975, through scenes of steamy passion (convincingly acted, it must be said), all the way back to the night the affair began, at a party at Robert and Emma’s house in 1968. With every shift in time comes another shift in reality and another change of scenery, artfully lighted by Brian MacDevitt, on Ian MacNeil’s dazzling set. There’s something hypnotic about these choreographed set changes. Scrims float up to the fly spaces, flats sail away into the wings and beautifully dressed beds appear as if by magic.
The construction of the play is brilliant, but in a perverse way, because every scene seems to contradict what we’ve learned in the preceding scene, raising questions about who is betraying whom in these sexual power games. And in the end, it does what every Pinter play does — make us rethink the characters and question every single thing they’ve said.