Entertainment

The Next Stage’s ‘Betrayal’ challenges actors and audiences

From left: John Austin, Mike Waldhier and Caitlin Osborne will perform in The Next Stage’s “Betrayal.”
From left: John Austin, Mike Waldhier and Caitlin Osborne will perform in The Next Stage’s “Betrayal.” Photo provided

Last fall, The Next Stage theater company presented Arthur Miller’s “The Price,” a play about family dynamics and the price of one’s decisions. Now The Next Stage is back with its production of “Betrayal,” a play by Harold Pinter, in the studio space at The State Theatre.

“Betrayal” is not just a story about a love triangle, but is about betrayal as an idea.

“It reveals the many different ways we can betray ourselves and others,” Director Norrine Sims said. “The characters’ motivations are self-absorbed and deceptive, which results in a web of misunderstandings.”

An academic adviser at Penn State, Sims said she’s been fortunate to work with The Next Stage several times, and especially with this particular team.

“Doing a play like ‘Betrayal’ (requires) a lot of discussion and analysis in addition to the dramatic skills necessary to make the play come alive,” she said. “This group of people met those challenges with skill and commitment, and a camaraderie that made it a very rewarding ensemble experience.”

“Betrayal” features local actors Caitlin Osborne as Emma, John Austin as Jerry, Emma’s lover, and Mike Waldhier as Robert, Emma’s husband and Jerry’s friend. In order to remain faithful to the script’s English setting, Sims arranged for the actors to work with dialect coach Jane Ridley.

The Next Stage aims to do at least one play by each of the major playwrights, looking for powerful small-cast plays that are seldom produced. Pinter, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005, is considered one of the masters of the form.

“We look for plays or playwrights that have won, or been finalists for, major awards,” said Mary Skees, producing artistic director and co-founder of The Next Stage. “We like works that challenge actors and our audiences, plays which focus on language, plays which lend themselves to very spare sets and to highly theatrical treatment in an intimate space.”

The Next Stage chooses plays that have complex characters and great writing, and this production of “Betrayal” is no exception.

“The opportunity to see a work by Harold Pinter is a special event — he is a major 20th century playwright, and his plays aren’t often seen in State College,” Osborne said. “He writes so carefully and leaves all these clues and references for the audience to discover. I think a person could see it several times and find something new with each viewing.”

Because of the play’s structure, the cast had to spend a lot of time understanding the sequence of events, and, even more important, the sequence of their character’s knowledge of events. The play is written in reverse chronological order, so what each character knows in each scene is tricky.

“The scenes move back toward the beginning of the affair, so this means that as an actor you have to make sure you are not carrying emotions over from scene to scene,” Austin said. “It is a wonderful way to make sure that you maintain focus on the scene you are in but it also presents a fun challenge.”

“By the end, the audience knows everything, but the characters know nothing,” Osborne said. “Another challenge brought on by the play’s structure is that the emotional energy doesn’t build in a typical way.”

Austin said he loves the layers of relationships that are found within the play, as Pinter gives them three characters who are very close to each other and yet who also seem to struggle with communicating this closeness.

“By taking us back to the beginning of a long-term affair over the course of the play, Pinter gives us a unique perspective from which to consider this idea of the consequences of betrayal in friendships.”

IF YOU GO

  • What: The Next Stage’s “Betrayal”
  • When: 8 p.m. April 22-23, 3 p.m. April 24 and 8 p.m. April 29-30, 3 p.m. May 1
  • Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College
  • Info: www.thestatetheatre.org
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