Lantern Theater Company’s ‘Betrayal,’ carefully looking back

Geneviève Perrier as the wife of Gregory Isaac (middle) and Jered McLenigan as her lover in Lantern Theater Company's production of

Geneviève Perrier as the wife of Gregory Isaac (middle) and Jered McLenigan as her lover in Lantern Theater Company's production of "Betrayal." (Photo courtesy of Mark Garvin)

The walls capture your attention immediately at the sharply perceptive production of “Betrayal” from Lantern Theater.  Shannon Zura’s design throws streaks of light across them, as if we’re voyeurs peeking through Venetian window shades to see Harold Pinter’s play about infidelities and discoveries.

The lighting creates the perfect mood for “Betrayal,” Pinter’s 1978 play that in his typical style has the characters often reacting only to themselves and in silence. That’s part of the satisfaction that comes from seeing a good production of “Betrayal” — it’s up to you to imagine everyone’s inner thoughts as the play unfolds.

This triangular love tale about a literary agent, the book publisher who’s his best friend and the publisher’s wife comes off with a quiet passion in the Lantern production, directed with precision by Kathryn MacMillan and performed with enormous reserve by Jered McLenigan as the somewhat befuddled literary agent, Gregory Isaac as his publisher buddy and Geneviève Perrier as the publisher’s wife. And even though the cast offers plenty of space for us to consider the characters’ inner thoughts, the production’s overall effect is one of constant flow.

Pinter’s characters are, of course, British, as he was. I wish we had an American version of “Betrayal” to consider with a cast as uniformly excellent as Lantern’s. It would come complete, I bet, with screaming at each revelation about the affair, throwing smashables during the recriminations and plenty of tears and wailing. But would we come to our own conclusions about betrayal, trust and jealousy in any meaningful way?

Certainly not in the same intense way that Pinter forces us to. He had a model for “Betrayal,” which was also turned into a film: His own betrayal of his wife during a seven-year affair — precisely the length of the affair he created for his characters. His storytelling for the play is deceptively simple. It begins two years after the affair between the agent and the publisher’s wife has ended. They get together awkwardly for a drink, and she announces that her own husband has been unfaithful.

The plot then moves backward from scene to scene, all the way to nine years before that first scene. We hear first mentions of things we’ve already learned about in preceding scenes. We piece together the genesis of betrayal by back-tracking the lies and misrepresentations.

We look on as the characters appear and act younger, dressed differently from scene to scene in LeVonne Lindsay’s costumes. Christopher Colucci’s original music between the scenes sets a mood of uncertainty, which is appropriate. Even though we know from the beginning that the affair has been over for two years, we’re unsure how it evolved until Pinter rips away the action and the present becomes the past. Several years ago, Mike Nichols’ lackluster production of “Betrayal” on Broadway was duller with each leap backward, and I never wanted to see the play again. Lantern’s satisfying production makes me glad I did.

“Betrayal,” produced by Lantern Theater Company, runs through Feb. 17 at St. Stephen’s Theater, to the rear of St. Stephen’s Church, at 10th Street between Market and Chestnut Streets. 215-829-0395 or lanterntheater.org.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.