Anatomy of Heartbreak: Kitchen Dog Theater’s Betrayal

A surreal sculptural assemblage of every day items forms the central focus of Kitchen Dog Theater’s set for Harold Pinter’s celebrated 1978 play Betrayal. Shelved books, baby shoes, family photos, kitchen utensils, racked stemware, incidental furniture, scraps of clothing — all perch precariously, in upside down jumble, as if suspended in time and space, waiting to come crashing down under the weight of love’s betrayal. Director Tina Parker understands the visceral essence of this play implicitly and leads her evenly balanced ensemble through a spellbinding labyrinth of revelation and devastation. Elegant, probing, relentless, restrained — the characters initiate action and suffer its consequences like a skilled surgical team deftly wielding exploratory lasers around a massive, festering tumor.

Premiered at the Royal National Theatre in London, Betrayal reveals its plot through the unusual device of reverse chronology, giving its actors and their director a unique challenge: tell its story backwards, from conclusion to inception, while advancing the arc of the play forwards, from exposition through conflict to resolution. Ingenious, thought–provoking and heartbreaking as a masterful work, its actors must never lose track of the unfolding arc, while adhering to the reversal device.  Kitchen Dog’s cast, Max Hartman, Leah Spillman and Cameron Cobb (with Parker’s assistant director Jonathan Taylor playing a waiter in one scene) rise deftly to the occasion.  They present an intense, portent-filled, tangibly real performance exploring the detailed path of a seven-year love affair that destroys both friendship and marriage. Leah Spillman as Emma opens the play a spent shell of a woman, clinging desperately to stolen memories and slim shreds of self-respect. Max Hartman, as Emma’s lover and husband Robert’s longtime business partner and college friend, reveals a man sapped of all vitality, so deeply depressed he is barely capable of maintaining engaged conversation.

Cameron Cobb, Leah Spillman, and Max Hartman in Kitchen Dog Theater's Betrayal. Matt Mrozek photo

Cameron Cobb, as Robert, betrayed by both, has consumed himself with vengeful rage, becoming alternately withdrawn and tyrannical, expansively bitter and icy cold. It’s fascinating to watch them ‘unfold’ into hopeful, vibrant people, celebrating life and each other, making choices within intimate relationship without concern for future consequence. Tina Parker, much respected for embracing bold, broad, “edgy” themes and subject material, as an actor and director, excels here in directing the subtle gradients of precarious nuance in love grown astray, reflecting the remarkable sculpture looming center stage.

Superior production teamwork created the production’s downcast, tortured ambience: set design by Bryan Wofford assisted by Cindy Ernst and Alex Lorain-Hill, with scenic painting by Rachel Obranovich; costumes by Korey Kent; lighting by Dan Schoedel; sound by John M. Flores; props by Jen-Gilson Gilliam and Judy Niven.

Betrayal runs through October 9 at Kitchen Dog Theater located at the MAC, 3120 McKinney Avenue, Dallas TX

Tickets: 214-953-1055   

As published in Arts & Culture Magazine, October 2010

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