Tensions wax and wane in Nomadic Theatre’s ‘Betrayal’ at Georgetown

The cast and creative team understand Pinter's play and its logic-defying emotional arc but not often enough to maintain a continuous magnetism.

Betrayal is a play that, in many ways, defies logic. Its plot structure appears to push the action of the story backward, beginning where it should end and ending where it should begin. And yet even as it does so, Betrayal’s emotional arc is continuously propelled forward.

In fact, the 1978 work by Harold Pinter — his most famous work, surely — so defies logic that it is far too easy to make simple mistakes in staging it. Some directors overthink, trying to push deeper meaning into the words that isn’t there; others underthink, not reading between the lines.

Still, the worst mistake a director can make in staging Betrayal is trying to make it logical, and in doing so, ruin what makes it work in the first place. Thankfully, Nomadic Theatre — a student-run theater organization at Georgetown University where Betrayal is performing through November 5 — does not make that mistake.

Show art for Nomadic Theatre’s production of Harold Pinter’s ‘Betrayal.’

Betrayal is, quite simply, the story of an affair. Emma cheats on her husband, Robert, for seven years with Robert’s best friend, Jerry. Emma and Jerry procure a flat for the secret life they form together, all while Jerry continues to maintain his friendship with Robert.

It would be a straightforward story, except Pinter has placed the scenes in reverse order. We first meet Emma and Jerry when their affair is long over, and follow their story as it moves backward in time, learning what really occurred and who knew what really occurred and when they knew what was really occurring. As a result, the story is about one big betrayal, but it is also about a series of smaller betrayals.

Pinter is also known for not revealing too much in the words alone. Rather, the characters in this play speak in spare dialogue soaked in subtext. In another context, their words may not even seem out of the ordinary, but here they are riddled with underlying tension. Emma, Jerry, and Robert weaponize their own intense emotions and memories against each other, cutting the others to get only briefly ahead in a strange, relational power struggle.

The moments where Nomadic’s production of Betrayal really works are the scenes in which this tension is at its most palpable. In a sequence of scenes surrounding Emma and Robert’s vacation to Venice, around halfway through her affair with Jerry, the characters’ competing interests feel particularly intense. Emma (Becca Haley) meets once again with Jerry (Sasha Montefiore) upon returning from the trip, before Jerry meets with Robert (Patrick Clapsaddle) for lunch. The three performers portray how each character knows something the other doesn’t, but don’t speak of it. Rather, tinged undertones become a source of hidden conflict.

As much as that sequence works in Nomadic’s production, though, it also stands in contrast to much of the rest of the play, where this production, directed by Alex Wang, could have taken tension and conflict in the dialogue’s subtext further. It seems, especially in early scenes, that an effort to avoid overplaying Betrayal’s undercurrents results in buried subtext. It surfaces often enough to make clear that this cast and creative team understand the play — no small feat, to be sure — but not often enough to maintain a continuous magnetism.

What could benefit Betrayal, in this specific case, may have been more out-of-the-box thinking. There are, of course, inherent constraints that come with student theater — smaller and often awkward venues, low budgets, little time on top of other commitments — but those constraints can also be thought of as a license to experiment, to find nontraditional ways through staging and design to evoke the emotional arc of this play. (Pinter may not like those decisions, but he is also dead.)

Still, Betrayal is not an easy show to stage, and it is clear from this production that Wang and Nomadic Theatre understand the play and its logic-defying emotional arc, which cannot be said of even some of the most celebrated artists in the theater industry. That alone is impressive.

Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes with no intermission.

Betrayal plays through November 5, 2023, presented by Nomadic Theatre performing at Village C Theatre at Georgetown University. Purchase tickets ($5–$10) online.

The program containing credits for Betrayal is online here.

Written by Harold Pinter
Directed by Alex Wang (CAS ‘25)
Produced by Roshni Powers (SFS ‘26)
Stage Managed by Mariana Salinas (CAS ‘25)
Technical Direction by Brendan Teehan (CAS ‘25)

Emma: Becca Haley (CAS ‘25)
Robert: Patrick Clapsaddle (SFS ‘26)
Jerry: Sasha Montefiore (CAS ‘25)
The Waiter: William Kennedy (CAS ‘25)


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