Pinter: The master of the pause. A playwright who understood the power of silence, both onstage and in life. Betrayal is his alluring, witty drama written in 1978 and one of his most accessible plays; it is about who knew what when and who said what had been thought unsaid. This is a world of innuendo and sinister ambiguity. Delicious.

The plot is an old, trite story: A woman is having an affair with a man who is her husband’s best friend. But it is the structure as well as the style that makes this play more than that cliché circumstance: The scenes work backward in time, and as the characters grow younger, they grow happier, betrayed by time.

So it is odd that director Kathryn MacMillan decided to break the play in half and dissipate the tension with an unnecessary intermission.

Much depends on the tone of the production. This is a cast-dependent drama requiring much subtlety from the actors. In the Lantern production, Geneviève Perrier plays Emma, and her piquant looks and soft voice serve the role well; it will become obvious she is just Pinter’s instrument to explore the friendship between her lover, Jerry (Jered McLenigan), and her husband, Robert (Gregory Isaac).

The first scene starts when Emma and Jerry meet in a pub long after their seven-year affair has ended. “Darling,” he says. “Don’t,” she says. And that’s a good sample of the dialogic style. And watch their eyebrows as the initial silence continues beyond any audience’s reasonable expectation. And then, “Do you ever think of me?” “I don’t have to think of you.”

We get to see Jerry before the fact when he is newly smitten with Emma; McLenigan plays him as a sweet, puppyish, romantic guy, drunk enough at a party to make his move. His boyish awkwardness continues into his mid-30s, despite his sophisticated life as a world-travelling literary agent; he is often bewildered and flummoxed as events overtake him. As a lover, he seems gentle and adoring. Is his appeal that he provides a contrast to her husband?

Isaac plays Robert, Emma’s suave, sexy, dangerous husband, a successful publisher who hates “modern prose literature.” Isaac’s good looks and elegant manner lend power to his character, although his line delivery lacks some of the menace Pinter is famous for.

One of the ways we see time passing is through the clever costumes designed by LeVonne Lindsay, maintaining a plausible English restraint during the hippieish, sex-addled late ’60s/early ’70s. The lighting, often filtered through venetian blinds, is unobtrusive, and the British accents (Leonard Kelly is the dialect coach) don’t waver.

Theater Review

Betrayal. Through Feb. 17 at Lantern Theater Company, 923 Ludlow St. Tickets: $28-$43. Information: 215-829-0395, lanterntheater.org.