Weisz Shimmers in Nichols’s Five-Star ‘Betrayal’: Stage

Daniel Craig, his wife, Rachel Weisz, and Rafe Spall are superb in in “Betrayal,” Harold Pinter’s 1978 drama of infidelity.

Craig is suave and collegial as Robert, a London book publisher. Spall is hungry and rough-edged in a sexually magnetic way as his best friend Jerry, a writers’ agent.

Rachel Weisz is extraordinary as Robert’s wife and Jerry’s lover, her face registering with exquisite exactitude every conflicted emotion Emma feels over the course of the seven-year affair. Mike Nichols’s devastating production is above all a showcase for this terrific actress.

The gimmick of “Betrayal” is that the story, a fleet 100 minutes start to finish, unfolds finish to start, with Emma and Jerry meeting at a bar two years after the affair has ended, and then in brief scenes that take us back in time to their first, feral embrace.

I’m no great fan of this stratagem (how many decades has Stephen Sondheim spent trying to get a similarly constructed tale right with “Merrily We Roll Along”?). There’s a pretty good reason stories have a beginning, a middle and an end leading to an emotional payoff.

“Betrayal” opens with a powerful scene of reconciliation and ends in fairly ho-hum fashion with that stolen kiss. Dramatically, it’s a letdown.

Less so in this case, though. For Nichols has calibrated each of those 100 minutes to strike a nerve. You quickly forget you’re watching capital-S Stars. The show has more urgency than the Broadway original or the very good 1983 film.

I wish the tickets didn’t require a second mortgage and the audience weren’t restricted to the very wealthy or the very lucky. But this production will stay with me as few others.

Through Jan. 5, 2014 at the Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: *****

What the Stars Mean:

*****  Fantastic
****   Excellent
***    Good
**     So-So
*      Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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