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Letter from the Artistic Director on Betrayal

by Martha Lavey

One of the great pleasures of Betrayal is Harold Pinter's elegant crafting of a formal structure to contain the unruly experience of love and its betrayals. The story is a simple one: a marriage is betrayed by the love affair between the wife and the husband's best friend. Marital infidelity is the obvious "betrayal" of the play's title but the play goes on to interrogate a series of other betrayals – between the two men, between the lovers, by the passage of time itself (time and its accretions of experience betray the bright promise of new love). The play moves backward in time: the flow of theatrical time opposes the flow of chronological time. The beauty of this structure is that it inscribes a reality of theater: when a play begins, the players already know the end – it has been pre-ordained. The actors pretend not to know the outcome – they play each moment as a discovery, a fresh surprise (and every night, the story ends the same way). This may be the story of our lives – it may be especially the story of our betrayals. We know our lie will be discovered, we know this will end badly, but we carry on with the hope that we will overcome the odds, that THIS TIME, our fantasy of happily-ever-after will prevail. By beginning the play at the story's end, Pinter seems to be suggesting that the end was always there – the discovery of the betrayal and the wreckage it produces was right there, in seed form, the moment the line was crossed. This is not to suggest that Mr. Pinter is being moralistic about marital infidelity. The betrayal of the marriage vows is the obvious transgression. In discovering it, the characters are compelled to face another series of betrayals – ones they have enacted, ones they have been issued. No one is assigned the villain, no one emerges the saint. This may be why Mr. Pinter foregrounds time in the play. By reversing the chronology of events in its theatrical unfolding, we become aware of time as a character in the play. Time, like the three central characters, becomes an agent in the play. What does time do to relationships? Is time, itself, a betrayer? What does this mean, this corrosive endurance of time on the luminous moment of first love? Which is true? The luminosity? Or the inexorable erosions of time? Moving backwards in time is also a miming of memory: we remember selectively, we choose to remember the events in conformity with the outcome – we construct a narrative. The narrative itself may be a betrayal – the selections of our memory are purposeful, more true to the story we chose to tell than to the events themselves. The lean, spare structure of Betrayal is beautiful craftsmanship. The container informs the subject matter (like all good poems). We are fortunate to be able to experience this play in the hands of our director, Rick Snyder, and our Steppenwolf actors, Tracy Letts, Amy Morton, and Ian Barford. All have worked frequently on the Steppenwolf stage, all have worked with one another for years. The deep information that they share, as colleagues and friends, will surely inform their work on Betrayal – a play of intimacy and time.