A marriage silenced

In performing ‘Betrayal,’ by Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter, the Xperimental Theatre explores subtleties of language

Katrina Wilber

The play’s the thing,” quoth Shakespeare’s Danish prince. But it takes more than writing a play to win a Nobel Prize. Sometimes a playwright is awarded for writing the silences.

The University’s Xperimental Theatre presents Nobel laureate Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal,” a play chock-full of meaning that isn’t said.

The play tells of a man who discovers his wife’s long-term affair with his best friend. The three main characters tread oh-so-carefully through scenes of intrigue and deception, love and the lack thereof.

Nuances and the insinuations, the spoken and the unspoken, push these characters deep into the twin evils of suspicion and treachery.

More often than not, playwrights write what they mean. But Pinter focuses on implying and indicating his meaning.

In the scene where Robert discovers his wife’s affair, an audience member might initially wonder what point Robert is trying to make. Everything he says is like a dagger to the heart, but he stops short of outright accusation. Instead, his choice words push his wife into confessing.

“One of the biggest difficulties with Pinter’s work is the subtext,” director Nick Ryan said. “It’s hard, but it’s necessary to get everyone on the same page as far as the text is concerned because of how the play is written.”

“Betrayal” calls for a cast of four characters, and thus, “it’s a much more intimate process,” said Danny Salmen, who plays Robert, the cuckolded husband. “There’s more coherence with the ideas and the director’s articulations.”

While it’s true that the success of a show often depends on the camaraderie among the cast, “Betrayal” forces those who perform it to throw away any preconceptions or fears and become painfully intimate.

Actors in Pinter’s plays must be particularly in tune with each other to tell the story because of the play’s scriptural design.

“The story is told thematically, rather than chronologically,” Drew Madlen said.

The first-year theater major portrays Jerry, Robert’s best friend who becomes the lover of Robert’s wife, Emma. The play is told with the end as the beginning and moves backward as the play progresses.

As if the subtleties of Pinter’s language weren’t demanding enough, the cast had a few more hurdles.

Salmen plays a man who’s been married for 10 years and is approaching middle age. But Salmen is a fourth-year student in his 20s.

“There’s quite a bit of difference in the age range, and therefore a difference in life experiences,” he said.

“Betrayal,” first produced in 1978, is one of Pinter’s 29 published plays. He received the 2005 Nobel Prize for literature.

“He’s only the second playwright in recent years to win the Nobel Prize,” said Branislav Jakovljevic, a professor in the department of theatre arts and dance. “It’s great recognition for drama and theater.”

Pinter began his theatrical career as an actor, and his writing style is based on the incredible knowledge of the power of the English language he developed in performances.

“He is the master of broken dialogue and he is the master of silence,” Jakovljevic said. “He brought a refined sense of language to his writing which only an experienced actor can write.”

Ambitious directors and actors gravitate toward Pinter’s work because of the challenging language and subtext.

“It’s a very difficult play,” Ryan said. “And it’s not the safest play, either.”