Strange infidelity

Blue Canoe reaches beyond its years with Pinter’s Betrayal

The cast of Betrayal makes an admirable attempt to capture the weighty sentiment of Betrayal, but are ultimately given too much burden to bear with too little support.
The cast of Betrayal makes an admirable attempt to capture the weighty sentiment of Betrayal, but are ultimately given too much burden to bear with too little support.

“Truth in drama is forever elusive,” Harold Pinter said during his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005.

“Sermonizing has to be avoided at all cost. Objectivity is essential. The characters must be allowed to breathe their own air.” And breathe the characters most certainly did in Blue Canoe’s latest production of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal—and then some. And then just in case you missed it the first time around, they breathed some more.

Pinter, who died of cancer last December, is famous—or infamous, depending on your personal tastes—more for the style of his plays than their content. His writing is at once lyrical and sparse, alluding to if not quite capturing the hidden meanings behind the ambiguous chit-chat of every day life. No stranger to infidelity himself—while married to his first wife Vivien Merchant, he had an extramarital affair with a BBC television presenter Joan Bakewell as well with Lady Antonia Fraser—Pinter’s play tells the story (in reverse chronological order) of Emma and Jerry who are having an affair despite both being married to other people and Jerry’s being the best-friend of Emma’s husband, Robert.

It’s a beautiful play and a touching tribute to the lost legend—even, if at first glace, the subject matter may come across as inappropriate for a company devoted to producing plays showcasing the talents of youth between the ages of 13 and 25 in the Kingston area. However, Pinter is an admirable challenge for a young company to produce.

Unfortunately the venue is inappropriate: Room 102 in Theological Hall. Once upon a time Room 102 was a studio space used by the Queen’s Drama Department to mount productions. It is now, however, a classroom, replete with desks and chairs and blackboards. There are no wings (and no flats were brought in to create the illusion of wings), so unused props and set-pieces are visible throughout the play and sometimes the actors had to stand onstage with their backs turned to the audience to signal they were no longer on.

These indiscretions might have been forgiven if the production was breathtakingly good and had risen above its lamentable location. Unfortunately, it is only ever mediocre. This is due in large part to Elizabeth Laing’s direction, which allows the production to wallow for far too long in its own presumed self-righteousness.

Laing seems to have gotten herself so caught up in Pinter’s language that she has forgotten to make her actors move. Instead, they stand (or sit) through most of the play like static chess pieces, which is intriguing at first in their polarity, however it proves timersome to watch as the play goes on.

The pauses in Laing’s production—a trademark of Pinter’s plays—are almost as long and as unmotivated as her scene changes, which are unnecessary and painful to sit through. Most of the time during these changes is spent changing the paintings in a frame hung from the ceiling. Used to illustrate a new setting, Emma Craig’s paintings are stunning and add emotional depth to the piece. The time required to change them, though, makes one wonder if they are doing more of a disservice than service to the production. It is, after all, a play everyone has gathered to see and not an exhibition of gallery paintings.

It seems almost unfair to comment on the acting in the play. As mentioned before, the actors are too young, inexperienced and light for the weighty roles they have been assigned to play. As Emma, Ashley Peoples appears to be the most comfortable in her role and at times even sparkles. But she, like her fellow actors, is ultimately trapped by Laing’s monotone portrait of married life. Ryan LaPlante is wryly amusing as Robert and, perhaps most difficult of all, Nathaniel Fried is a convincing drunk in his role as Jerry. As for the character, one can only help but wonder by the end of the play why either Emma or her husband Robert were ever attracted him. At the end of the play when Jerry becomes drunk, Fried’s syntax becomes more natural and Fried’s talent begins to shine.

Blue Canoe had a strong foundation for an excellent production in Pinter’s script. The production simply didn’t live up to the potential of the piece. Hopefully the company will tackle future challenges more appropriately. With its burgeoning potential and talent, I do look forward to seeing what this company conjures next.

Betrayal is being performed Thursday Feb. 26 to Sunday Mar. 1 at 8 p.m., with matinees at 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, in Room 102 Theological Hall.

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