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by Lucy Komisar
Contents: December 23, 2000:
Juliette Binoche and Liev Schreiber are devotes of gratification in Pinter's "Betrayal." Photo by Joan Marcus.
by Harold Pinter, directed by Mark Lotito
produced by Roundabout Theatre Company
American Airlines Theatre
227 W. 42 Street
Opened November 14, 2000
Closes January 28, 2000
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar November 18, 2000
Men and women betray each other with casual composure, as if they were discussing a love match at a tennis game instead of the love game in their lives.
Harold Pinter's "Betrayal," staged with ironic clarity by David Leveaux and acted with cool intelligence by the three principals, discourses on the "civilized" trappings of personal infidelity. Three friends -- members of the literary-artistic intelligentsia -- engage in sexual unfaithfulness with such sang froid, that they ask after lovers' spouses and children, and one has lunch with the friend he is cuckolding, while suggesting that any other behavior would be downright uncivilized.
Jerry (Liev Schreiber) is a literary agent, Emma (Juliette Binoche) is an art gallery director, and her husband, Robert (John Slattery) is a publisher, who brings out some of Jerry's authors. Emma and Jerry, who was her husband's best man and sees him regularly, have had an affair for seven years, but now it's over. She calls him, because her marriage is collapsing.
The action moves backwards in time, beginning with the meeting of Emma and Jerry. Though they haven't seen each other in years, there's an uneasy intimacy as they interrupt and finish each other's sentences. But their conversation is sparse; there's a sense something is missing. You begin to fill in the meaning. As the action develops, each revelation is enriched by your knowledge of what will come "later," which you have seen before. One gets the sense of examining relationships under glass.
For all the coupling, the overt sense is one of isolation. These people are so encased in their own selfish desires, that they seem always to speak past each other. The artificiality, the sense that they are playing out repetitious, preordained acts of their social milieu, is enhanced by Leveaux's device of having some scenes open with the set slowly rotating to the sound of baroque piano music, as if this were the diorama in a music box.
Lies upon lies are uttered with a dry economy of language and lack of emotion -- at most, some jaded discomfort. Each lies to the other two, and the joke is that the cheaters get indignant at the thought their spouses might be false to them, too. It is a sort of roundelay, an echo of "La Ronde."
Binoche is warm but distant at the same time. It's only at the height of her affair with Jerry, when she is kittenish and flirty, that you sense any sexuality. That's also true for the men. They all exude a coldness and sense of distance. Even the costumes are coolly monochromatic, until Binoche wears red at the moments of sexual animation.
Robert, who (we learn at the start) knows he's being deceived, pours Jerry a drink and engages in desultory conversation about business and children. At Emma and Robert's apartment, the three talk about dishonesty, with an obvious undercurrent of hypocrisy.
Binoche, Schreiber and Slattery do excellent jobs portraying a modern, self-centeredness and a desire for gratification at all costs that makes even their affairs seem empty. They interact as if they were living in their own bubbles. The set seems to imprison them in high distant walls that variously enclose a cafe, a study, a living room, a hotel room in Venice. The furniture is sophisticated and functional, with no particular personal style. The fašade of a reddish stone church seen through the Venice hotel window darkens as light and shadows play on it, a metaphor for the lives of the couple inside who are discussing a book about betrayal.
by David Auburn
Produced by Manhattan Theatre Club
Walter Kerr Theatre
219 W. 48 Street
Opened October 24, 2000
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar October 27, 2000
This is a crisp, warm, affecting play about valuing family and self. It's also a mystery about a mathematical proof whose secret reveals something about the processes of mathematics and of society's prejudices.
Mary-Louise Parker gives a clear, forceful performance as Catherine, a young mathematics student who dropped out of college to care for her brilliant but mentally ill father and at his death attempts to reclaim her own life from those who would set limits on it.
It is ironic that Robert (Larry Bryggman), a professor in the University of Chicago math department, invented a mathematical technique for studying rational behavior. For most of his last five years, his mind didn't function. He's just died of a heart attack, but we see him in flashbacks, an avuncular, unpretentious man in chinos and brown sweater.
The action occurs on the realistic porch of a large brown brick house, its overhanging roof protecting rattan furniture, glass doors leading to a living room, and a window giving a glimpse of the kitchen.
Playwright David Auburn sets up a moral contrast in the behavior of Robert's daughters. Catherine, now 25, put her own life on hold because she didn't want her father to be institutionalized. Her sister Claire (Johanna Day), a currency analyst on Wall Street, sent money but didn't visit. Arriving for the funeral, Claire views with dismay Catherine's torn jeans and tank top, buys her a dress and advises her to use jojoba oil in her hair.
Catherine runs into not only the crass consumerism and insensitivity of her sister, but the innate sexism of the mathematics world and of the young man, Hal (Ben Shenkman), who was her father's protege. Hal has arrived to go through the professor's papers to see if they hold unpublished discoveries.
Commenting on the fact that there are so few women in the profession, Catherine asks him if he's run into Sophie Germain. He thinks he might have, maybe at some conference. She informs him dryly that Germain lived during the French revolution (another time of "liberation") and pretended to be a man to have her math taken seriously.
Distraught at her father's death, Catherine also worries that she might inherit his illness, that perhaps there's something in the mathematical mind that disposes it to madness. The "proof" to be discovered will illustrate not only something about the mysteries of creating higher mathematics, but the need to revise one's calculations on what people are worth.
Bryggman is realistic and intelligent as the professor, Day's controlling sister would be right at home on Wall Street, and Shenkman does a fine job as the self-absorbed but sincere young mathematician.
Director Daniel Sullivan's staging is moving without being sentimental. That includes the best charming, real-life love scene I've ever seen in a play.
by Edward Albee, directed by Mark Lamos
produced by Second Stage Theatre
307 W. 43 Street
Opened December 5, 2000
Closes December 24, 2000
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar December 6, 2000
Mark Lamos has directed a enthralling, caustic revival of Edward Albee's devastating satire on the Catholic church, denouncing it for money-grubbing and hypocritical anti-eroticism. Leaving no stone unhurled, the play is also a misogynistic vision of female sexuality and seductiveness. And finally, it is a gothic mystery that wavers between the sinister and the absurd and a joke on the audience, which the author toys with as he throws out his symbolic clues.
Albee has delicious fun with language, puns, plays on words and especially the pompous religious "we." The lawyer (Stephen Rowe), who has come to see the cardinal (Tom Lacy), engages in quick, mocking repartee, matching the cardinal's use of "we" with his own. As if to comment on the absurd game-playing, they speak before an elaborate miniature birdcage that holds red cardinals.
The lawyer (known only as Lawyer) represents a woman who wants to give $20 billion to the Catholic church -- but also, lest the cardinal think he's too important, to the Protestants, Jews, orchestras and revolutionaries. There's a deal to be made, to prove to the satisfaction of the giver that the Church will sell out what is "dearest" to it for money. The holy "we" suddenly reduces to a crude "I' when it's about getting the big bucks. "Shall I go to the house and pick it up in a truck?" inquires the cardinal, revealing himself a hypocrite and posturer.
The sacrificial lamb is the naive, innocent lay brother Julian (Richard Thomas) -- the word lay is emphasized with vague allusions to his relationship with the cardinal -- who professes total self-abnegation, committing to serve and be forgiven. But he has his own erotic dreams, including fantasies of self-sacrifice, of being discovered in a closet, of being seduced by a helpless woman. The lawyer counters with a sexual pun: "The making of a martyr. How to come out on top going under."
The obscenely wealthy, menacingly erotic "Miss Alice" (Laila Robins) will show them up, tempting the cardinal with her money and Julian with her sexuality. Not that her temporal world is any purer. The atmosphere is thick with hostility in all directions. Her relationship with the tiresome, nasty lawyer-lover is vicious. She puts up with, sometimes even relishes, the lawyer's unerotic sexual offensive.
The set shifts between Alice's bedroom, with a huge painting of a female nude, and a baronial marble dining room, with a marble table, bar cart and huge model of the palatial building itself. The model seems to have a baffling life of its own.
Albee plays with the notion of rank. The suave, quizzical, slightly fey, whiney, butler, called Butler (John Michael Higgins) is Alice's former lover and clearly an equal who helps himself to the wine.
Julian is the innocent bested by sophisticates. He says, "Obedience is not always a fault." The lawyer ripostes, "Nor a virtue, see fascism." Alice, in her seductive, slinky black gown, is tough and insistent. Julian has an interior life ready for her probing. He insists he's hallucinating. She inquires, "Is the memory of something having happened the same as it having happened?"
So, what is mystery we are witnessing, a battle of the temporal vs. God? Of the attempt of the representatives of the temporal to show up the representatives of God? What does the model of the house represent? Terrestrial society? "There are no limits to possibilities," says the lawyer. Does he mean the possibilities of corruption? "Let it all come down," Alice says, "Let the whole place go." It is Albee's curse on hypocrisy.
The cast is excellent, with Laila Robins an icy, sensuous Alice who is at the same time both perpetrator and victim. Richard Thomas is terrifyingly pitiable as Julian, John Michael Higgins is a wonderfully dry, cynical Butler, Stephen Rowe is a palpably nasty lawyer, and Tom Lacy is a fine, smarmy cardinal. [Komisar]
Theater critic Lucy Komisar gives pre-show briefings and post-show discussions for theater parties to enrich playgoers' experiences. She'll also help find an appropriate show and make or advise on arrangements. Interested parties may telephone (212) 929-1610 for information.
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