Betrayal, Theo Ubique Theatre Company, at the Heartland Studio Theater. The key to unlocking Harold Pinter’s secrets lies in mastery of the “Pinter pause,” roughly three seconds of pure, unmitigated torment that help to externalize the raw emotions lying beneath the cool surface of his prose. With Pinter, what’s unspoken is frequently more powerful than what’s said. It’s a great device; Sam Shepard, Caryl Churchill, and many others have managed reasonable facsimilies, but no one does it quite as well as the master.

On the whole, Theo Ubique understands what the Pinter pause requires. As dour publisher Robert, John O’Meara uses it as a weapon to inflict psychological wounds, perfectly embodying Pinter’s intent. But what transpires between the pauses is a problem here: the other performances are overstated, and the rhythm of Pinter’s dialogue is frequently lost.

There’s no doubt that the playwright intended the 1978 Betrayal to be a challenge to actors and audiences alike: he skips back through nine years of an ill-advised love triangle. Unfortunately director Fred Anzevino has dressed Pinter’s skeletal work in all sorts of unnecessary frills, from extended scene changes that disrupt the flow to a sound design that mires the production in Hollywood-style overindulgence. Slowly but surely, this staging dilutes Pinter’s gripping, menacing work into something utterly inoffensive. It’s an agonizing sight.

–Nick Green