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Lots of reasons for betrayal are conjured up by the human mind, but its corrosive effects can never really be undone.

Playwright Harold Pinter famously had an extramarital affair; it is said that “Betrayal” is based that experience.

North Coast Repertory Theatre presents a scalding production of “Betrayal” through June 28.

The story is told in reverse order, opening in a bar where ex-lovers Emma (Carla Harting) and Jerry (Jeffrey Fracé) spend an excruciatingly awkward few minutes with drinks that don’t seem to make talk easier.

Jerry is a literary agent who had an affair of some years with his best friend Robert’s wife. Robert (Richard Baird) is a book publisher whose wife, a doctor, may also be having an affair.

Jerry asks whether she is now seeing a writer he represents. She volunteers that she and husband Robert may separate because he has admitted to extramarital affairs.

In nine short scenes (times and places conveniently projected), this trio will lie to themselves and each other about many things. The telling silences say more than the words on the page. The whole is uncomfortable though compelling to watch.

One big topic of interest for the men is secrecy – who knew what and when? A secret that no one guesses is part of the pleasure, isn’t it? Jerry seems crushed to learn that Robert knew for years that he was being cuckolded.

The men will talk of playing squash (but never actually do it) and – in a particularly prickly scene – whether boy babies cry more than girl babies, and why. Emma, unsuccessful at injecting herself into the men’s plans, keeps to herself.

Marty Burnett’s clever set offers sliding doors and revolving set changes. Alina Bokovikova’s costumes are time-appropriate (the play is set in the 1970s) and downright stunning for Emma.

Benjamin Cole injects some much-needed humor into the proceedings in scene seven as a sniffy Italian waiter serving the men a few bottles of Corvo Bianco wine.

Director Frank Corrado has assembled a sterling cast for this difficult piece. Fracé is new to San Diego, but his experience in San Francisco theater is evident here. Harting, familiar to local audiences, is a welcome presence here as well.

But it’s Baird you’ll remember most, for the thin veneer of polite civilization that barely covers an explosive temper beneath, and for several other quicksilver moods on display.

“Betrayal” isn’t for all audiences, but this is a fine production worth seeing on several levels.

The details

“Betrayal” plays through June 28, 2015 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 La Jolla Village Drive, Solana Beach.

Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm

Tickets: (858) 481-1055 or northcoastrep.org

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.