From ending to beginning in Huntington’s ‘Betrayal’

Alan Cox and Gretchen Egolf in a scene from the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of “Betrayal.” Photo: T Charles Erickson

BOSTON — Don’t arrive late for the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal.” You might miss the ending.

The play begins with a man and a woman in a 1977 London pub, mulling the detritus of an adulterous relationship, two years after it ended, and then unfolds in reverse chronological order to the very beginnings of the affair, nine years before.

For the theater-goer, that means leaning forward and paying strict attention from the git-go.

Robert (Mark H. Dold) and his wife Emma (Gretchen Egolf) are longtime friends of Jerry (Alan Cox). There are other connections: Robert is Jerry’s publisher, the two have lunched and drank together and spent time at each other’s homes, and the two are would-be squash partner.

It is two years after the end of the relationship between Emma, who runs an art gallery, and Jerry, and the two are meeting in a pub. Emma offers the news that she is breaking up with husband Robert, who has been cheating on her.

Jerry is upset at the news of the betrayal, taking it personally, as if he hadn’t done far worse to his friend for a much longer period of time. Ah, but his faulty memory of what has been going on is at the heart of the play. “Betrayal” is a memory play, all about faulty memory and false perception, and is believed to be based on Pinter’s own affair with the journalist Joan Bakewell.

Pinter drops clues like bread crumbs from scene to scene, allowing us to find our way back to the beginning.

There is the scene when Jerry fondly recalls tossing Emma’s daughter in the air; where did that happen, actually?

There is a telling point in the relationship of Emma and Jerry when they are in their rented flat when it is determined which way the relationship will go — will Emma actually leave Robert for Jerry?

“But I already have a home,” says Jerry.

Director Maria Aitken has done some stellar work for the Huntington in the past (“Educating Rita.” “Private Lives,” “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps”) and has her cast en pointe to handle Pinter’s minimalist dialogue in which an arched eyebrow or intonation means everything.

The production is further testimony to the Huntington’s attention to detail, including cutout areas of the curtain where scenes are staged; the truncated space puts extra attention on the actors and what’s being said.

Nancy Brennan’s spot-on period fashions march backward to the late 60’s, with a mini-skirt and Nehru jacket, and John Gromada’s original music lends to the atmosphere.

During a recent show a projections showing the time and location of a scene was not working, making for some awkward stage announcements; no doubt it was but a one-night glitch.

The acting in “Betrayal” is excellent. Be there early so you won’t miss the ending.

The Huntington Theatre Company’s production of Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal.” Directed by Maria Aitken. At The Boston University Theatre through Dec. 9. Huntingtontheatre.org.

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