L.A. TIMES - August 1982
Pinter's Geometry Lesson
By DAN SULLIVAN,
Times Theater Critic
A good many critics have tried to fathom what Harold Pinter
meant to say, exactly, in a play like "Old Times" or "The
Homecoming." A good many productions have tried to make
these plays yield more specific answers than they are meant to
Pinter's "Betrayal" in its West Coast premiere at the Matrix
Theater—a scrupulous job of production by Actors for Themselves—is
not a conundrum. It is as exact as a geometry problem worked out
step by step on the blackboard. Given: A man and woman who begin a
love affair behind their spouses' backs. To prove: Deception in
marriage damages all parties concerned, including the deceived.
If Pinter were to draw his lesson any more clearly, "Betrayal"
would be a sermon. There is, in fact, a Lenten feeling to the
play. Jerry and Emma, the lovers (Lawrence Pressman and Penny
Fuller), are judged as well as analysed—judged and found wanting.
So is Robert, the betrayed husband (Ian McShane). None of them
behaves well, or acts largely. Adultery, Pinter seems to be
saying, is more inhibitive than life-enhancing.
It's also something that friends shouldn't do to one another.
We notice that Pinter keeps Jerry's wife off stage. Hasn't she
been betrayed as well? Not so much, because she and Emma weren't
friends, as Robert and Jerry are.
As we still are, insists Robert, in his suave and nasty
way, after it's clear that he knows what's going on. This throws
Jerry's superficiality back at him in an unanswerable fashion, but
it is not totally false. The men may continue to have lunch, not
always a business lunch. (They are in the publishing game in
London.) But they won't play squash again. Some lines one doesn't
Comrades being scarcer these days than lovers,
this is the betrayal that Pinter seems to take most gravely. But
the subversion of Emma's and Robert's marriage is no light matter,
though it begins lightly enough, with Jerry being silly at a
party. It is adultery on a whim, and like many impulse items it
turns out to be overpriced, because the affair wears out, too.
It takes Emma and Jerry longer than some—seven years—to get
from "I'm crazy about you" to a hesitant "I don't think ... we
don't love each other." But they do arrive there, and the
prospects for each look fairly flat at the end of the tale —for
Robert as well, who has joined the betrayer's game. Deception
seems to have taken the flavor out of their lives—or are they all
just getting older?
The end of the story happens to be the beginning of Pinter's
play. Interesting, this backward-running line. And not lacking in
suspense. A psychiatrist or police investigator probably asks, "What happened just before that?" as often as
"What happened afterwards?" Knowing the result, the audience is
curious to work back to the cause. Playing the story in reverse
also gives the actors the chance to grow lighter and more innocent
in their roles, to take off the years rather than to put them on.
There's also a curious poignance in that final scene in the
bedroom amid the coats, as if we were looking back in time with
Emma, wishing she had broken away from her comical suitor and
followed her husband into the living room! In the old phrase, we
live our lives forward and examine them backward.
The acting, under the direction of Sam Weisman
(Weisman gave us
"Table Settings" at the Matrix last year) is very fine, of its
specialized kind. "Betrayal" is also as calculated as a math
lesson, and that means that we are not going to get spontaneous
performances. As deceivers must be, all the characters are under
At first, indeed, Fuller and Pressman seem to be as comically
poker-faced as characters in a Noel Coward comedy. (Very large,
China.) The pain takes time to surface. Pressman's includes an
awareness that he is, indeed, a cad. Fuller's is laced with a
delicate resentment of her husband for driving her into this
predicament with his coldness—which may partly be true. Certainly
she nearly perishes of his coldness in the hotel room in Venice
when he finds out about the affair. Yes, I thought it was
something like that. Typically underhanded.
McShane as the husband takes the eye because of his new fame in
the "Disraeli" TV series, but it is an ensemble performance and
the triangle is not thrown out of balance. We see the shutting
down that occurs when a suspicious man finds out he was right to
be suspicious, but we also get a glimpse, in the luncheon scene, of a man who
started out to be open. It's an objective performance, just as it
is an objective play, but a faint wash of pity is glimpsed.
The fourth performer is Michael Alaimo as the waiter in the
Italian restaurant where Robert and Jerry won't be such familiar
faces—fussy, a bit comical, a man with his own story. Not a
perfect waiter, but a close to perfect performance.
The set by Gerry Hariton and Vicki Baral (lit by them, too) is
a handsome no-comment affair of wheat-colored-modules. Charles
Berliner's costumes recede to the 1960s without commenting too
much, either. Pinter's sermon is crisp, but it takes.
WEEKLY Pick of the Week
August 20-26, 1982
by Joie Davidow
This recent play by Harold Pinter is surprisingly
light and accessible, yet it misses none of Pinter's linguistic
elegance. The very charming, witty story of an adulterous love
affair, it raises the question of exactly who is betraying whom.
Emma maintains a long-standing romance with her husband's best
friend. It takes several years for the thrill to fade, but when it
does, they break it off. Two years later, Emma's marriage dissolves.
Pinter reveals his story through a series of scenes in reverse
chronological order, so that the surprise is in finding out who knew
what when. For the real betrayal is in the secrecy. These are upper
middle class English people — a literary agent, an art gallery
manager — people who vacation in Venice and drink decent wines. And
in their struggle to make something discreet and sensible of very
real human passions, Pinter finds both humor and poignance.
In this production, the same controlled passion
is the key to the superb performances of three actors — Penny
Fuller, Lawrence Pressman and Ian McShane — insightfully directed by
Sam Weisman. Fuller manages to convey enormous feeling merely by
holding a pose, and to subtly grow younger as the play progresses
backwards, a year or two at a time. McShane is really quite
magnificent as her husband, the power of his unspoken pain nearly
terrifying, threatening to explode at any moment. Pressman's
character, the best friend, is the least likeable and the most
difficult: a flaw, perhaps in Pinter's writing, a problem which
neither Pressman nor director Weisman has solved completely. This is
a weak, insensitive man, utterly literate, who misses every
conversational innuendo. One wonders what Emma sees in him, what
sustains the affair for so long, what need he could possibly fulfill
in her. Given these difficulties, Pressman's performance is
Gerry Hariton and Vicki Baral have contributed
yet another of their stylish, understated sets, solving the problem
of multiple scene changes with sliding panels and simple, modular
pieces. And somehow, they have managed to duplicate precisely the
quality of sunlight flowing through a Venice hotel window.
Unlike much of Pinter's earlier work, Betrayal
will not send you home with something to puzzle over and chew
on. At. least at my age — which is not so different from that of the
protagonists — it left me smiling quietly, perhaps a bit sadly,
thinking only, "ah, yes."
FEATURE ARTICLE: L.A. TIMES, Thurs, Oct.
'BETRAYAL' STAYS PUT AT SMALL EQUITY WAIVER THEATER
by SYLVIE DRAKE, Times Staff Writer
Two of the more memorable events in Equity
Waiver theater this year have been the L.A. Theater Works'
production of Steven Berkoff's "Greek" and the Actors for
Themselves' production of Harold Pinter's austere "Betrayal."
The two pieces have nothing much more in common
beyond the fact that both were written by Englishmen and both
inhabited the Matrix Theater. "Betrayal," in fact, continues there
Its success, at one point, tempted producer Joe
Stern to move the show to an Equity house. One that would have
been right for it—the former Solari Theater in Beverly Hills—was
made available by its new owner, Gucci's. It meant raising
$100,000 for the move. According to Stern, he had it half raised
by the beginning of last week.
But "Betrayal" isn't moving. And the reason may
be a first in the annals of Equity Waiver. The actors—Penny
Fuller, Ian McShane and Lawrence Pressman—voted against it.
"It was a threefold thing," Pressman said,
speaking for all three. "The Matrix stands for a special kind of
event and that event has already taken place. We like to
bring people into this theater. We brought people into this
"Secondly, it's a question of intimacy. Pinter
has referred to his plays as 'a conversation overheard.' The
Matrix is right for that. We felt the Solari might not be.
"Thirdly, we would have been forced to play an
eight-performance schedule as opposed to five a week. It was
something we preferred not to do. We like the greater flexibility,
in case one of us gets a movie or television job. You can
do the film work in the daytime and play the theater at night, but
it's a killer. Yes, we could have understudies go on, but as much
as possible —and this is not a slur at understudies, not at all—we
want to preserve the fine chemical balance in the show."
As it stands, understudy Bob Phelan will
go on this weekend for actor McShane who will be in New York
shooting a movie. And the Friday performance has been canceled
altogether because Penny Fuller is also working, but a 2:30 p.m.
Sunday matinee has been added to make up for the cancellation.
Beyond Sunday, "Betrayal" doesn't close
exactly. It goes on hiatus until Dec. 8 (possibly longer) to give
McShane a chance to finish that film and until Pressman returns
from a previously scheduled trip to Russia. (By the way, CBS-TV's
"Two on the Town" is featuring this "Betrayal" in one of its
segments next week.)
Meanwhile—and here's excellent news—"Greek,"
with its original cast intact, returns to the Matrix for the
interim period. It will have the benefit of polishing touches from
author/director Berkoff who's in town directing his
"Metamorphosis," which premieres next Thursday at the Mark Taper.
"Greek" will open Oct. 23, playing matinees and evenings that
first weekend, then slips into a regular schedule, Tuesday-Sunday,
8 p.m., until Dec. 5.
"I'm still planning to take 'Greek' to New
York," producer Susan Loewenberg said, "but it won't be until the
spring. This gives us the opportunity, in a manner of speaking, of
extending the local run."
You won't hear complaints from us.
FEATURE ARTICLE: L.A. TIMES, Aug. 25, 1982
'DISCOVERED' AGAIN WITH 'DISRAELI'
by RODERICK MANN
Perhaps it's not only love that's better the
second time abound. At least that's how it strikes Ian McShane,
whose presence is very much in evidence these days. His television
series, "Disraeli: Portrait of a Romantic," is .now airing again
at 9 p.m. on Sundays on PBS' "Masterpiece Theater," and he has
just opened in "Betrayal" at the Matrix Theater.
"Disraeli" was first seen two years ago and
earned fine reviews. McShane, understandably, got the lion's share
of them. The critics all praised the "dark brooding intensity"
that he brought to the role.
Very nice. But at that time Mc-Shane's leg was
encased in plaster from an injury he sustained while making a
movie in Egypt, and there was an actor's strike on. And so,
although the series won plaudits everywhere, nothing much happened
as far as its star was concerned.
This time it's been different. Thanks to some
judicious advertising, the series again has been widely watched
and McShane has caught everyone's attention.
McShane, whose dark good looks have reminded
some of Tyrone Power, finds it all highly gratifying.
"Nothing much did happen when the series was
first shown here," he said, relaxing in his apartment just off the
Sunset Strip. "But this time there seems to have been great word
of mouth. And it's fortunate that it's come out just when I'm
doing 'Betrayal' on stage."
Like the other actors in this Harold Pinter
play, McShane is working for no fee.
"And that's fine with me," he said. "It's a
great chance to do a fine play. Anyway, I didn't become an actor
just to try to make a lot of money, I did it because I wanted to
act. And the chance to do high quality work always seems to go
hand in hand with the lower end of the pay scale."
McShane, who built up a good reputation in his
native England, returns there often to do plays and movies.
Earlier thisyear he starred in "The Big Knife" on the English
He was also in Paris this year making James
Toback's film "Exposed," in which he will be seen with Nastassia
Kinski, Rudolf Nureyev and Harvey Keitel.
In it, McShane plays an English photographer
who discovers Kinski and turns her into an international cover
girl. Toback changed the character into an Englishman in order to
use McShane, whom he admires, but McShane would have been quite
happy to play the role as an American. His accent is faultless.
"It's an interesting film," ha said, "an odd
mixture of high fashion and terrorism. Harvey Keitel plays a
character based on Carlos the terrorist, and the film has a really
"Nastassia is terrific in it. Curiously enough
I made a film with her father, Klaus Kinski, nearly 20 years ago
("Pleasure Girls") in which I also played a photographer.
"This one, I think, should do well. I hope so.
It would be nice to have a big commercial success. It makes life
Now married to American actress Gwen Humble,
and with two children by a former marriage living this side of the
Atlantic, McShane expects to spend more and more time in the
"In the past, I've tended to live all over the
place," he said. "And that confuses producers. Now I need people
to know I am here."
He is, understandably, delighted that the
series on Disraeli has been so well received this time around and
that audiences are enjoying his work in "Betrayal."
"But I must say I'm getting a little tired of
being rediscovered." he said with a smile. "After all, I've been
an actor all my life (he is 39). I keep running into actors here
who say: 'I went the usual route; I was a waiter, Or: 'I was a
barman.' Me, I was never a waiter or a barman. I was always an
actor. Do you think I missed anything?"