"Betrayal" has always been the least elusive -- the least Pinteresque -- of all Harold Pinter's major power-plays. And this hot-ticket revival, directed by Mike Nichols and starring superlunary couple Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, may be the least Pinteresque "Betrayal" we will ever see.
The success of Nichols' warm and approachable production depends on one's willingness to let go, for 90 entertaining minutes, of the late British playwright's mastery of the extreme mysteries of humanity. I'm willing, but with reservations.
The dazzling 1987 drama dissects adultery and a broken marriage mostly backward in nine scenes, from 1977 to 1968 -- from the end of the affair to the beginning. The production has been lusciously cast with Craig and Weisz as Robert and Emma, the married couple, and Rafe Spall as Jerry, the close friend with whom she has carried on, perhaps not always in secret, for seven years.
As Craig proved to Broadway when he played a quietly desperate cop in "A Steady Rain" in 2009, the actor is far more than Bond, James Bond. As Robert, a book publisher, he begins with a dapper, sardonic edge and lets us watch that famous granite profile crumble.
Weisz, impressively subtle Off-Broadway 12 years ago in Neil LaBute's "The Shape of Things," is commanding and grand fun to watch in her Broadway debut as the gallery owner/mother with a life on the side, though this Emma feels more clingy than the one Pinter wrote. Spall is less an obvious seducer than a puppy with teeth as Jerry, the married book agent, who, in this version, at times seems almost as attracted to the husband as to the wife.
Nichols' 2012 Tony-winning revival of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" expressed a profound connection with the heart and the content. For his first work with this far more ambiguous playwright, Nichols wisely chose his most overly emotional, accessible work.
If Pinter wrote in cool, witty line drawings, Nichols colors them in with robust clarity and broadens the wit to sex-comedy humor. Where Pinter leaves us to question the depth of Robert's distress, Nichols clears that up by having Craig sloppy drunk by the time Jerry arrives for lunch. When we finally see the first frisson of Jerry and Emma's affair in 1968, Nichols piles on the time-machine cliches by getting them high on marijuana.
Ian MacNeil's tidy sets change scenes by raising the walls and sliding in furniture, though a backdrop of moving gondolas in Venice feels overproduced for the style. Ann Roth's costumes are period perfect. The play remains a tight knot of emotional devastation and the lethal unraveling of everyday deceit. The mysteries are not just who did what to whom, but what did anyone know and when did he or she know it.
Pinter liked to say that "life is more mysterious than plays make it out to be." By probing too many psychological motivations, Nichols makes these people understandable but awfully ordinary.
WHERE Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St.
INFO $67-$185; 212-239-6200; betrayalbroadway.com
BOTTOM LINE Luscious cast and entertaining, but not Pinteresque.