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Theatre Review: Shepherd Productions’ Betrayal continues the British Affair theme

Lisa Much Lisa Much Theatre Review: Shepherd Productions’ Betrayal continues the British Affair themeMelissa Bair as Emma, Joe Lusher as Robert, Travis Horseman as Jerry. Photo by Nathalee Brown.
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Recently, Columbus has witnessed a second British invasion, at least regarding English penned plays centering on affairs and identity. In March, we saw Shots in the Dark’s production of Closer, last month Available Light produced The Cockfight Play, and now Shepherd Productions brings this city Harold Pinter’s Betrayal.

First produced in 1978, Betrayal presents a semi-autobiographical recount of a publisher’s (Jerry) seven year affair with his best friend’s wife (Emma). The play begins with Emma and Jerry getting a drink after not seeing each other romantically for a couple years. We quickly learn that Emma’s marriage is ending, and her husband, Robert, discovered the details of the affair between his wife and best friend. The next ninety minutes surround the history of the affair in reverse chronological order.

Shepherd Productions produces a fairly good rendition of a challenging script. Joe Lusher grounds the production with his stoic Robert. Melissa Bair and Travis Horseman foster excellent chemistry as Emma and Jerry. These actors nobly try to humanize these characters, but unfortunately, these three remain so self-absorbed, I find it impossible to connect to any of them.

Joe Lusher as Robert, Travis Horseman as Jerry, Melissa Bair as Emma.  Photo by Nathalee Brown.

Joe Lusher as Robert, Travis Horseman as Jerry, Melissa Bair as Emma. Photo by Nathalee Brown.

This play contains countless nuance and its short length and adequate pacing prevent the audience from feeling the characters as human. We rarely get to see those subtleties played out because the scene moves on too quickly, making this show almost seem like a historical account of an affair between very close people. In fact, I most want to see what happens as the lights begin to fade in each scene, particularly in Robert and Emma’s house as the show commences intermission.

Director Andy Batt finds the moments in this play and the cast hones in on them. Lusher and Bair’s spiky interactions and distance in the Italian hotel room capture a long marriage’s comfort. The audience glimpses Robert’s internalized meandered mess of emotions as he confronts his intimate stranger, and we start to feel for him, then the scene abruptly ends. Long and cumbersome transitions as well as a presumably unnecessary intermission work to take the audience out of the action.

Design wise, the team truly delivers that 1970s feel. Michelle Batt designs a large variety of very appropriate and beautiful costumes. Anthony Pellecchia’s lighting shows separate spaces with Victor Shonk’s pretty and colorful set design.

Overall, I find this play itself quite frustrating. Perhaps I feel too inundated with similar shows and am tired of this theme, but other than for Pinter’s catharsis at the time of the original production, I do not understand the need to perform this play. We see no change in the characters, especially due to the reverse nature of the play. All the cards are on the table within the first ten minutes of the show. We learn nothing from these characters, as far as I gathered, and they all feel too distanced, in regards to their selfishness and their wealth, to connect to. The very resources the couple pull to see each other seem so foreign and far-fetched to me. I’m not knocking Pinter. This is his personal story, sort of. Or Shepherd Productions. They tried to produce a show with interesting language. I just feel there are better choices both in characters and themes.

Betrayal runs until June 21, at MadLab, 277 N. Third Street. Thurs-Sat. at 8 pm. Tickets $15. More information can be found online at Shepherd-Productions.com or at 614-571-3886.

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