If you’re thinking of seeing Daniel Craig on Broadway, you may want to reconsider. Even if he is your favorite 007, his and his colleagues’ mediocre performances coupled with a melodramatic, cliché book make “Betrayal” unworthy of the exorbitant price of scalper tickets.
But news of the show’s mediocrity must travel slowly, as the Ethel Barrymore Theatre is virtually sold out for most of November. At a packed performance, everyone takes their seats, expecting to be dazzled by Craig’s undeniable charm and sex appeal. Most bring along paraphernalia in the hopes that the actor will make their week with a Sharpie and a swoosh of his wrist as he leaves the stage door. But the mainstream audience ends up coming into conflict with the esoteric and anticlimactic plot, resulting in confusion and subpar delivery.
The show opens on Emma (Rachel Weisz) and Jerry (Rafe Spall) talking at a café in 1970s London. Their dialogue is awkward and tense, and the play’s focus—their seven-year adulterous affair—reveals itself implicitly before it’s stated explicitly. They intend to keep their relationship secret and intimate, but it is all a ruse. Robert (Craig, Weisz’s real-life husband) becomes aware of his wife’s infidelity and his best friend’s betrayal two years before they separate, and he ignores their shenanigans because he is more afraid of losing Jerry than of keeping Emma and his dignity. Thus, Craig ends up playing the English cuckold who escapes into Yeats and solitude to find refuge from his perturbing situation.
The script consists of nine quick and sloppy vignettes, each of which adds another predictable dimension to the controversy. Scene transitions are admittedly flawless, as moving panels glide props and backdrops onto the stage, and sometimes actors with them. The lights dim to royal blue while viewers watch a Venetian hotel room transform into a suburban flat.
Though the sets may resemble modern art, the actors struggle to convey anything remotely artistic, transcendent, or poignant in their work. With limiting lines, their only emotional resource is their bodies, and yet they choose to exude self-control and detachment that directly contradict the passionate and personal subject of unfaithfulness. Motions are nonchalant, and words carry no emphasis. The drama devolves into nothing—we can anticipate the substance of every scene, and worse, we don’t care about the result. Nor are we allowed a conclusion—the vignettes run backwards, and the final snapshot we see is about Emma and Jerry’s first kiss in 1968. Left without an ending, we wonder what we have seen and why it matters.
Despite the overall disappointment of “Betrayal,” a few moments hold some merit. In Scene 7, when Robert has just discovered his wife’s affair with Jerry, they meet at a restaurant and Robert experiences a crisis in the middle of an Italian feast. Jerry, perplexed, does not understand his friend’s philosophical ponderings, and gives them little attention. But Robert’s vulnerability as he accepts his status as a shamed husband creates a powerful glimpse into the torture of an unhappy existence. Craig succeeds in depicting depression and instability in their most painful forms, and he is believable, invoking sympathy and real sentiment in an otherwise underwhelming and cold production. Spall, who plays the lead, also provides a solid rendering of his character—he portrays mindless and sleazy masterfully, and his acting carries the show beside Weisz’s forgettable interpretation of a conflicted lover. Nevertheless, “Betrayal” is weak and uninspired—better to wait outside of the theater to take a fan photo of Craig than to waste an evening (and money) on a play that won’t satisfy.
“Betrayal” runs through Jan. 5 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, at 243 W. 47th St. Tickets from $67.