“Tryst,” Westport Country Playhouse
For those who like a thriller with unexpected twists, set in Edwardian times (gaslight, period costumes and all), Karoline Leach’s “Tryst” will not disappoint. This two-character tale of a con artist and his victim takes as many unforeseen turns as a dangerous mountain road, leaving the viewing gasping and crying for more. Jo Brancato, who directed both this Playhouse offering and the original 2006 off-Broadway production, knows his territory. He never lessens the tension nor lets the action flag. And he manages, at the same time, to let the comic aspects emerge.
The hero, if you will, George Love (the name he offers) earns his livelihood by spotting lonely spinsters, seducing them, stealing their money, and disappearing. It is a career he has practiced for many years and honed to a fine art. Adelaide, a thirtyish milliner, is one of a long line of trophies. Leach has taken a Gothic tale with the stock characters (so popular in the 19th century) and turned it upsidedown. Like all good plays, “Tryst” raises more questions than it provides answers. Who, one wonders, is the seducer, who the seducee.
Andrea Maulella turns in a fine, convincing performance, inhabiting the very skin of her Adelaide. She turns from a timid, mousy character who is easily won over by the practiced George, with his assumed upper-class accent and supposed ambassadorial career. But, by the second act, she has developed a stiffer spine and a new realistic appraisal of George. (This unlikely turnaround happens during intermission while the rest of us are enjoying coffees and snacks.) Moreover, the denouement itself is never made clear, and one is left to question its believability. But no matter. “Tryst” is too much fun to cavil over such flaws.
Mark Shanahan, on the other hand, goes over the top in his role as George Love. More restraint would have made Love a more dangerous character. But by the second act Shanahan has hit his stride, and his interchanges with Maulella are right on target.
The design team also enhances the Gothic setting, with David Korins’ dark, eerie set, the stark lighting of Jeff Nellis and Alejo Vietti’s appropriate costumes. But Johnna Doty’s sound design, like Shanahan’s initial performance, would benefit from more subtlety, more restraint.
But such concerns are minor. In all, “Tryst” provides a two-hour roller coaster ride, an evening of thrills and chills.
(This review also appears in the Connecticut Post and nytheaterscene.com)