Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Betrayal (The SOB Review) - Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre, Chicago, IL

Betrayal (The SOB Review) - Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre, Chicago, IL

*** (out of ****)

Despite its relatively short, 75-minute running time, a great deal is woven into the complex web of deceit that is Betrayal, which opened Sunday at Steppenwolf Theatre Company's Upstairs Theatre.

Nobel Laureate Harold Pinter's wonderfully written non-linear play about an extramarital affair slides back in time from the late seventies to late sixties to reveal who knew what when over six distinct years.

The drama begins with former lovers Jerry (Ian Barford, above right) and Emma (Amy Morton) coming together for a hastily arranged meeting after not seeing each other for a couple years. Emma informs Jerry that she has just learned that her husband Robert (Tracy Letts, above left) -- Jerry's onetime best friend -- was also having an affair.

Much to Jerry's dismay, Emma divulges that she finally felt it necessary to come clean with Robert about her former relationship with Jerry. Deciding to face the music with his old friend, Jerry meets with Robert only to learn that Emma had broken the news of her affair much earlier. Seems the lover was actually the last to know.

From there, Pinter expertly transports his audience back in time to spin Robert's web that catches his spouse and her amour in their lies. In a stunning performance, Letts offers up a deliciously deceptive slow burn -- so deceptive that clueless Jerry never grasps that his best friend is on to his own deceit. What I admire about Letts is that he completely loses himself into every role he takes on, and Betrayal's Robert is further proof of his versatility.

Morton, of course, is once again about as close to genuine perfection as one can hope to see on the stage. Without missing a beat, she effortlessly slides from the despondent to the giddy....and all with an impressive English accent.

As one of the Steppenwolf's latest ensemble additions -- just last week, in fact -- Barford provides more than sufficient proof for why he was selected. He's sharp in making his Jerry foolish and hopelessly bewildered, never reading into the nuances of his conversations with either Robert or Emma (it's also quite possible he doesn't even comprehend that his wife has likely known the truth about Emma and him throughout most of the relationship).

Unfortunately, despite the exceptional acting and ingenious plot, this was not a perfect show. Inexplicably, when the curtain call came, there were several other "castmembers" who came out for a bow. They were each listed in the program as "ensemble," yet they were never to be seen earlier in the show (I later learned that their roles had been excised from the production). So why were they brought out at the end? That's a question for director Rick Snyder, whose sometimes inert staging made this 75-minute show seem as though it were full-length.

Still, if you want to see some of Chicago's best actors perform in a show designed to challenge your mind and make you think, then I recommend visiting the Steppenwolf now through May to see Betrayal.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).
Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Steppenwolf's Betrayal Opens Today (February 4, 2007)

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