Curtain Calls

By Donald V. Calamia

Review: 'Betrayal'

How men and women view relationships is at core of Pinter drama

"It's all over," the audience is told at the end of the first scene of Harold Pinter's drama, "Betrayal," now playing at The Abreact on the edge of Detroit's popular Greektown district. But that's a lie. (A betrayal, maybe?)

In actuality, it's the beginning of a rather fascinating look at relationships - or rather their illusions and dissolutions - told from a rather unique and engaging vantage point.

In the opening scene, the playwright quickly establishes that Jerry and Emma have had little contact since their seven-year affair ended two years previously. Both were - and still are - married to other people, but not for long: Emma plans to separate from Robert after learning the night before that he, too, had affairs during their marriage. So in the spirit of honesty, Emma told Robert everything - including the details of her affair with Jerry, Robert's best friend.

But that's a lie, too, the audience discovers in the second scene, when Robert reveals that Emma told him about the affair four years earlier - and he couldn't care less about it.

"We used to like each other," a stunned Jerry says to his friend.

"We still do," Robert replies.

What happens next is never revealed. Nor does it matter.

For Pinter's concern is not with the future, but with the past. What initially drew these characters together? What still binds them? What sparked the affair, and what ended it?

More importantly, Pinter uses "Betrayal" to examine the psychological differences between men and women - particularly, how each views their many and varied relationships. Is what's important to men the same for women, he asks his audience to ponder? And what must be negotiated or sacrificed in order to make a relationship work?

While his answers might not please everyone - especially those who believe there ARE no innate differences between the sexes, and therefore find the entire concept a betrayal - it's how Pinter reveals his story that's most fascinating.

Rather than start at the very beginning, "Betrayal" works in reverse. Nine years of history are slowly peeled away, with seemingly inconsequential details in the first two scenes becoming important as the play progresses. By show's end, all stands revealed.

In his program notes, Director James Mio calls "Betrayal" a "delicious play" - and it is, especially for directors and actors. There's much to discover in Pinter's work, but it's never an easy process: Words have shaded or hidden meanings, lines are often repeated and long pauses are written into the dialogue.

The result, then, could easily be a confusing and dreadfully boring evening of theater. However, that's certainly not the case with this production; Mio and his four actors meet the challenge with engaging results.

Mio makes great use of The Abreact's limited stage, giving the production a very intimate feel. His pacing is generally very good - accounting for those "Pinteresque" pauses - although shorter scene changes - there are eight of them - might help improve the show's flow. (The songs chosen for the scene shifts are excellent, however!)

As the show takes place primarily in Britain, each of Mio's actors speak with British accents. Surprisingly, they never lose them, something that rarely occurs in local theater productions.

Bryan Spangler plays Jerry with the emotional detachment associated with many British men. Peter Jacokes and Ashley Bogert are believable as Robert and Emma.

And James Nanis, who has only a few lines as a waiter, gets to collect a check (I hope!) and go home.

"Betrayal" Presented Friday and Saturday at The Abreact, 442 East Lafayette, Detroit, through March 5, and Sunday, Feb. 27. Admission by donation. 313-378-5404. The_Abreact@yahoogroups.com.

The Bottom Line: A well-staged production of a Pinter play in one of the coolest and friendliest venues in town!

Review: 'Disney's On the Record'

Hi-diddle-dee-dee, it's an entertaining show to see!

For the record, let me state that "Disney's On the Record," now playing at Detroit's Fisher Theatre, was not what I was expecting.

It's probably not what ANYONE at opening night was expecting.

Which probably expalins why the national tour is ending prematurely on July 31!

I suspect that's because "Disney's On the Record" is unlike any other touring production mounted by the House that a Mouse Built.

Although it's promoted as a musical, it's not. There's no storyline, no dialogue and no cute and cuddly characters to turn into marketing goldmines. (Well, there IS a stud muffin or two to drool over, but that's not quite the same thing!)

There IS music, however, and plenty of it!

The Disney vaults have been emptied of 59 songs for this production, some sung in snippets and others presented in their entirety. So I guess that makes "Disney's On the Record" a revue, although that's not totally correct, either.

That's because there IS somewhat of a pretense behind the production, although it's somewhat contrived and certainly not well developed. The four so-called characters even have names - although they are used only in the program, yet never uttered throughout the show. (There's no dialogue, remember?) They even exhibit personalities - especially Nick, played by Andrew Samonsky, who has mastered the art of creating something out of nothing through his body language and facial expressions. (Never let it be said that an M.F.A. in acting won't help you stand out in a crowd!)

So what rolled into town last week, you might be asking yourself?

How about this: "Disney's On the Record" is a slickly produced and very entertaining romp through 75 years of Disney history as told through the songs loved by generations of people young and old throughout the world.

It's just not what the little kid inside you was hoping for!

Set in a contemporary recording studio, four singers arrive and prepare to "create the ultimate Disney collection." There seems to be some history between Julian and Diane, the more seasoned veterans of the team. And there might be some history-yet-to-come between Nick and Kristen, if flirting is any indication.

What follows are 15 "recording sessions" spread over two acts, each of which highlights a special theme or movie. Some of the songs are classics ("Whistle While You Work"), while others are virtually unknown except to Disney freaks ("Minnie's Yoo-Hoo").

If nothing else, the show's overall production values are what you DO expect from Disney: eight amazing singers and dancers, superb musicians, a phenomenal set and breath-taking staging! It's a spectacle to be sure, and one that seemed to hold the attention of even the youngest Disney fan in the house.

Even if it wasn't what they were expecting!

Disney's On the Record Presented Tuesday through Sunday at the Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit, through Feb. 27. Tickets: $32.50 - $72.50. 313-872-1000. http://www.nederlanderdetroit.com.

: The Bottom Line: A slick and entertaining celebration of the songs that made Disney great, but a marketing disaster that Mickey & Company won't soon repeat!

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