Of the productions from SHSU’s theatre department that I’ve had the pleasure of seeing, the production of Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” has by far been the most disappointing.
The story going back through time to see the dissolution of a relationship and how the affair began is very interesting, and the lighting motif of gears spinning sells that fantasy quite well. The set was designed well, and costuming, although nothing exemplary, was serviceable at best. Through all those things, however, the worst parts of this production shine through with complete clarity.
The performance given by Jerry was so unnecessarily bad that it became increasingly difficult to watch throughout the play. With terrible facial expressions, poor line delivery and a complete lack of chemistry between other actors, the performance became a slough to get through.
The performance of the other two leads, while not bad, were just quite flat. They almost felt like window dressing, as if they were just pieces of the set. Nothing quite interesting happened with their characters and there are no stand-out moments throughout this performance featuring these two as focal points.
One part of this play that was a stand-out moment, though maybe not for the best reasons, was the Italian dinner scene. The one character to have an accent throughout the whole play was the Italian waiter character, and while that isn’t inherently problematic, the fact that the other characters were supposed to have accents makes this one example stick out like a sore thumb. The scene was overplayed in an excruciating manner.
The scene, supposedly being about the two main characters, have the protagonists through completely to the wayside in order to offer a hamfisted caricature of an Italian side character to be the main point of focus. It made the scene feel dissonant, as though this completely new and pointless character is the one to be having the undivided attention to. This character was meant to be used as a facilitator to the growth of Robert’s character and his growing disdain for Jerry, instead the main storyline was tossed aside in lieu of a poorly executed joke scene.
This play is written by an English playwright, is set in London, and has many features that place it in England. There were many futures throughout the play that gave evidence to the local, being some of the specific slang that is not used here in the States, like calling an apartment a flat. The English characters were not portrayed with accents, yet it is not the lack of accents that force this production down into mediocrity, but instead how they approach line delivery, especially in regards to the comedic elements.
The main point of contention that I have with this play is its complete enthrallment in this very western, American style of comedy. It is incredibly overly dramatic and forced. The comedic moments don’t feel natural, as if they weren’t even performed by people. The over exaggerated comedy was in complete opposition to the kind of comedic portrayal the writing called for. What was needed was a more reserved dry wit with focus on satire and sarcasm akin to British humour. Instead what was presented was overinflated line delivery with no setup or reward. The forcing of these lines into this Ameri-centric, almost gag humour with facial expressions that seem overly desperate for an audience reaction makes the play painfully unfunny.
Overall, this production has been the most disappointing performance I’ve seen from the SHSU Theatre Department. With a few key changes in line delivery, non-verbal expressions, focusing on the correct attributes of comedy and more work on building chemistry between the actors, this performance could have been amazing.