With Betrayal, Nomadic Theater produced a strikingly intimate show

November 20, 2023

Courtesy of Miranda Xiong/Nomadic Theatre

Against the dark stage of Village C Theater, the lights shine on the suggestion of a restaurant: a table and two chairs, tablecloth, and a shelf of liquor. There is a couple seated at the table. At first they do not talk, exchanging only cautious glances and sips of their drinks in a nervous preamble to conversation. When they finally do begin to talk, they exchange short lines, only a few words each. Sprinkling in bits of information, the audience gradually begins to glean the situation: they are estranged former lovers who have not spoken for two years. 

Harold Pinter’s 1978 play Betrayal, put on by Nomadic Theater from Nov. 3–5, tells the story of the seven-year affair between Emma (Becca Haley, CAS ’25) and Jerry (Sasha Montefiore, CAS ’25). Set in reverse chronological order, the play—inspired by Pinter’s own affair with BBC presenter Joan Bakewell—travels backwards seven years, revealing levels of complexity as information is known and then unknown. With each revelation, the most casual of lines take on a new, tense weight.

Pinter’s dialogue is deceptively simple, but its brilliance arises both in its authenticity and the echoes of earlier lines later in the play, which are suffused with new meaning and reflect the characters’—and the audiences’—changes in their levels of knowledge. In one instance, Jerry’s casual recollection of Emma’s husband Robert (Patrick Clapsaddle, SFS ’26) reading Yeats alone on the island of Torcello is charged with new energy a few scenes later when another layer of information about that moment is unveiled: Robert went to the island alone the morning after Emma confessed her affair. To Jerry, unaware that Emma had confessed the affair at that point, the line retains its banal insignificance; to the audience, the earlier scene is retroactively filled with more tension, as they are reminded that Robert knows of the affair but does not tell Jerry.

Through the play’s reverse-chronological nature, the audience experiences enough instances of dramatic irony to populate a paper on the subject. Much of the humor is derived from this irony: Montefiore plays off Clapsaddle’s stony demeanor as he—blissfully unaware that his friend knows of the affair—attempts to kindle casual conversation with his friend. 

Despite the singular nature of the title, there is not one eponymous betrayal, but rather numerous intricately woven moments of deception. Emma’s infidelity to her husband Robert is an obvious one, but another is Jerry’s betrayal of his friendship with Robert. The intrigue continues when Emma admits the affair to her husband but does not reveal that to Jerry for years. Meanwhile, Robert maintained his friendship with Jerry and simultaneously engaged in affairs of his own throughout, adding additional levels of duplicity. 

Nomadic Theater’s production of Betrayal, directed by Alex Wang (CAS ’25) is a Dead Bunny Production, which utilizes a smaller cast, lower budget, and fewer technical elements to put on a smaller, more intimate show. According to Wang, Nomadic chose Betrayal because of its more personal and quiet nature, a change from their previously more elaborate shows. Wang also noted that she appreciated how Pinter’s play allowed for more complexity in the characters, refusing to paint its characters as altogether terrible people for their affairs.

“At the end of the day he’s trying to portray [infidelity] in a very sort of objective way, as in there’s not a single like ‘this is the archetype who cheats and therefore he’s bad.’ The layers and the complexity of the characters, they’re just so good,” Wang said.

The set—though simple—was immersive, drawing the audience into the play’s various settings through the work of a bed, a table and chairs, and a pair of bookshelves. One of the more potent props is a tablecloth bought in Venice for the lovers’ secret apartment. Brought up earlier in the play, it is a pitiable attempt to create a sense of home in a place that could never be one. Yet later in the play (and earlier in the story’s timeline), Emma eagerly shows off her new purchase to Jerry, who responds with similar enthusiasm. Only the audience knows that she will joylessly gesture to it two years later as they prepare to sell the apartment. 

While the props have meaningful impact, against the simple set, the dialogue carries much of the weight of the play. Filled to the brim with secrets, this production features restrained performances, with Haley and Clapsaddle being the most subdued. While this reservation is what gave the scenes a realistic sense of tension, it at times led to overly apathetic lines of dialogue. 

For instance, in her earlier scenes, Haley speaks in such a reticent manner that one wonders how her character could ever love Jerry, starkly contrasting Montefiore’s enthusiastic performance of a man who still harbors feelings for his former lover. As the play traveled back in time to the happier days of their affair, Haley brightens her character with more emotion and levity, and the audience is afforded a glimpse of her character’s former happiness.

Clapsaddle’s performance of Robert—who spends the majority of the play aware of the affair, but stubbornly resistant towards confronting his friend—had a stoic severity. Robert’s knowledge of the affair is so clearly apparent in his quiet anger, it is a wonder that Jerry fails to suspect Robert knows the truth. However, Robert’s inner turmoil was well-evoked through the smaller actions employed by Clapsaddle, such as the nervous fidgeting of their fingers.

But moments of humor break through their solemnity as well. In a scene near the end of the play, Robert and Jerry meet for one of their habitual lunches, but this time it is different: Robert has just learned of his wife’s affair with Jerry. He becomes increasingly drunk throughout the scene—despite his insistence that “you can’t get drunk on Corvo Bianco”—culminating in him sloshing a glass of wine out onto the stage and audience.This moment of physical comedy eased the tension and revealed how the revelation of the affair affected the previously stoic Robert. However, it felt slightly out of place in a play that previously relied on its dialogue for laughs and used very little physical movement.

Despite Jerry’s own deception, Montefiore’s performance eschewed the restraint of his castmates, instead settling into the role of the blissfully ignorant Jerry. Utterly comfortable on the stage, he embodied his character’s complacency and confidence, adding humor through dramatic irony as Robert’s lines—charged with double-meaning—fly past him. His earnestly casual, laid-back and confident demeanor contrasted the others’ restraint, hinting at the lack of guilt Jerry felt for his deceptions.  

Although it stood in sharp contrast to the more lively and elaborate shows produced on campus this fall, Nomadic’s stripped-back production of Betrayal still managed to draw the audience into an intimate web of complicated relationships. The specificities of the characters’ lives—a trio of English thirty-to-forty-somethings working in the art and publishing industries—are a world away from the realities of Georgetown students, but Betrayal’s examinations of the complexities of deception and the ripples caused by infidelity were universal.

Eileen Miller
Eileen is a sophomore studying Regional and Comparative Studies and an assistant Voices editor. She hails from a small island near Seattle and is a big fan of evergreen trees. When she isn’t writing coherent, fact-based Voice articles, she is writing nonsensical, absurd fiction.

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