Last Updated November 3, 2023.
Betrayal is a brief play that unfolds as a series of vignettes between a woman and two men: Emma, Jerry, and Robert. Emma and Robert are married, and Emma has had a long-standing affair with Jerry, Robert's best friend. The action is presented in reverse chronology, starting in 1977, when the affair between Emma and Jerry has been over for some time. The scenes of the play move back through the 1970s while the affair is taking place, and the play terminates in 1968 on the day when Jerry first declares his love for Emma, who is already married to Robert.
In scene 1, Emma and Jerry are having a drink together. This is 1977, the end of the action but the beginning of the play. At this point, Emma and Jerry have ended their affair years prior and are merely friends with a past. Emma reveals to Jerry that she told Robert about their history at one point. At the same time, she says she may leave him because he has been cheating on her over the years. Jerry reminds her that they were unfaithful together for seven years. The two reflect on their time together: Jerry had a place where they would sneak off together, and Emma had recently passed by that neighborhood. Jerry brings up Casey—an author he works with—because there are rumors that he and Emma are having an affair.
Scene 2 depicts Jerry and Robert several hours later, still in 1977. Jerry has felt deeply troubled after learning Robert knew about the affair and called him over to bring it up with him. Robert reveals that he has known about the affair for four years; Jerry is shocked to hear this because he did not sense any change in their friendship. They discuss Casey, the novelist that Emma is rumored to be seeing.
By scene 3, the story has moved back in time. It is now the winter of 1975: Emma and Jerry are together in a flat. This is, presumably, the apartment the two of them used as a rendezvous point throughout their affair. Emma comments that recently, they haven’t been using the flat. She is trying to invigorate their relationship, yet Jerry is not reciprocating. They argue about the future of their relationship; Emma is saddened by the emptiness of their shared space. They decide they ought to sell the furniture and stop renting the place. Emma struggles to get the apartment key off the keychain, and Jerry removes it for her. This is the end of the affair, so it seems.
Scene 4 shows all three characters in Robert and Emma’s house. It is the fall of 1974, and Jerry and Emma’s affair is in full swing. Robert is fully aware, as we have discovered in the previous scene, but only Emma knows this. They discuss their children and Casey’s latest book. Jerry liked the book; Emma thought it was “dishonest.” Robert tries to arrange a game of squash with Jerry, though Jerry seems to take little interest. He is heading out of town on business with Casey anyway—he says Casey feels he “deserves” the trip. When Emma asks if Jerry deserves it, he does not answer. Emma wonders if she might be able to watch their squash game when it happens, but both men decline. There is palpable tension here. Jerry leaves, and Emma cries with her head on Robert’s shoulder.
In scene 5, it is now the summer of 1973. Emma and Robert are in Venice, and Emma is reading a book that she and Jerry both enjoy. It is...
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on the subject of betrayal; Robert dislikes the book because he feels it isn’t adding much to the general literary conversation on betrayal. The two are discussing where they might go whilst on their trip. They have been here before as newlyweds. Emma receives a letter from Jerry, and the couple begins discussing their mutual friend. Robert reminisces on their friendship over the years, insisting that the two of them are still as close as they were when they were younger. Emma is visibly trembling. She admits to Robert that they have been lovers for five years. Robert tells her he had suspected something, though did not anticipate that length of time. He takes the information considerably well, then they go back to planning their trip.
Scene 6 takes place later in the summer of 1973. Jerry and Emma are together in their apartment, discussing Emma and Robert’s trip. Jerry expresses concern about the letter he sent—he was worried that his wife Judith would see. Emma hesitates (since she told Robert about the affair) but assures him everything is fine. Jerry tells Emma he and Robert are having one of their regular lunches soon.
The summer of 1973 continues in scene 7, and Jerry and Robert are at lunch together. Jerry has been drinking heavily. Both bring up Emma in separate ways, but try to avoid lingering on her for too long. Robert insists Jerry come to dinner at their house because Emma would appreciate seeing him soon. It is a lunch full of guarded words and double meanings.
We go further back in time to scene 8: the summer of 1971. Jerry and Emma are in their apartment, discussing the nature of their relationship. They appear to be quite happy and excited with one another. Emma has run into Judith and is surprised that she didn’t tell Jerry. The two discuss whether it is possible Judith is also having an affair, their faithfulness to each other, and the possibility of leaving their spouses. Emma asks the latter question with subtlety; Jerry says it would be “impossible” to change their lives in that way. The scene ends when Emma tells Jerry she is pregnant with Robert’s baby, and Jerry expresses congratulations.
Scene 9, the first chronological piece, takes place in 1968. This is the beginning of the affair, and Robert and Emma are hosting a party. Emma finds Jerry on her bed, drunk, insisting that Emma has been driving him crazy. He drunkenly confesses love for her dating back to her wedding. She reminds Jerry that he was their best man. He kisses her twice; she breaks away twice. Robert enters the room and Emma explains that Jerry is drunk. Jerry admits that he was telling Emma she was beautiful, and Robert concurs. The two men reaffirm their friendship, and Robert begins to leave. Emma trails behind but Jerry grabs her arm. They linger to look at each other and the scene ends.