Harold pinter's "Betrayal" is a chilling anti-romance, a bleak comedy for an age of disenchantment in which marital infidelity and divorce have become commonplace. The new British play at the Trafalgar Theater is stylishly acted but retraces the steps in an adulterous relationship between Jerry, a literary agent, and Emma, the wife of his best friend, Robert, a publisher. For reasons that seem more arbitrary than immediately discernible, Mr. Pinter begins at the end of the affair and works back to the moment when it started.
The method may perhaps suggest one of those trick movies in which shattered object seems to reassemble itself.
The difference in the case of "Betrayal" is that the fragmentation is evident in the last scene when Robert surprises Jerry just after they have embraced. The impression left on at least one spectator is that the husband's suspicions -- although stated much later -- began at that moment.
Their eight-year attachment was an episode and the episode is over. Mr. Pinter ravels the unraveling relationship in a series of conversations full of implications, resonances, and somethimes conflicting remembrances of things past. The dialogue abounds in S-curves and circular digressions, knowing flippancies, and wittily tangential allusions. Deception and perception, intimation and revelation, criss-cross each other in the symmetry of the nine tightly composed scenes.
Although each member of the triangle displays, at one time or another, the capacity for emotion, "Betrayal" avoids any sustained depth of feeling. Surfaces are scarred and damage is done, yet one feels that, with a little literary polish, the sheen will be as bright as new. The characters arouse interest but not much concern or compassion. The overview is one of remoteness and detachment. The trio inhabits a word in which it is more important to articulate than to feel.