By Geary Danihy

Endings.

They’re so damn difficult to get right, whether you’re writing a novel, a screenplay or a drama.

A case in point is Tryst, a romantic thriller by Karoline Leach that recently opened at the Westport Country Playhouse. For almost the entire two hours that this gripping, extremely well-written and well-acted drama runs, there’s not a single false note…and then there’s the last three minutes that simply don’t equate, not because what happens is unbelievable but rather because the playwright simply doesn’t prepare the audience for the outcome. Thus, while the Playhouse audience is often more than generous with its standing ovations (just about everything these days warrants the playgoers rising to their feet), the applause, though ample, was offered by an audience planted firmly in its seats. The theatergoers simply were not ready for the play’s final moments.

The closing moments aside, Tryst is an intense, at many moments riveting, two-character study of a chump-change gigolo and the woman who initially succumbs to his wiles and then begins to play a game of her own.


Andrea Maulella and Mark Shanahan in “Tryst” at Westport Country Playhouse, now playing through August 23. (203) 227-4177. www.westportplayhouse.org
Photos by T. Charles Erickson

Mark Shanahan, as George Love, hits all the right notes as the lower-class lothario who searches the less than salubrious warrens of London for young women he can woo and then relieve of whatever funds they have available. He is, by turns, ardent and impish as he espouses an amoral philosophy that allows him to blithely love ‘em and leave ‘em, fully believing that he has given these young woman their money’s worth.

The drama opens with Love on the lookout for his latest victim as he wanders the dingy streets of London, a dank, dark milieu beautifully captured by scenic designer David Korins. His attention lights upon Adelaide (Andrea Maulella), a spinster seamstress who works in the backroom of a millinery shop, and soon he is weaving his amorous web as the two move about the stage in sequences that almost seem to be choreographed, such is Joe Brancato’s deft direction.

Maulella is absolutely superb as the shy, somewhat austere young woman who at first cannot believe she has drawn the attention of such a charmer. Ever so slowly, her posture (which initially is that of a soldier on parade) begins to soften as she warms to the idea that she might just have a chance to become Mrs. Love.

Such is Maulella’s energy and attraction on the stage that it is entirely believable that Love, as callous and conniving as he is, slowly begins to warm to the woman. As the two rush off to Weston Super Mare and take up residence in a hotel room prior to departing, so Adelaide believes, for the Continent, Love begins to have doubts, an emotional swing that Shanahan handles with a great deal of aplomb. As he wavers, Maulella’s character becomes stronger, here bearing more assured, here confidence a palpable force.

The two actors work so well together, reacting both vocally and physically to each other’s thrusts and parries, that the evening seems to rush by as the audience is drawn deeper and deeper into this battle of wills. It is perhaps this level of audience commitment that makes the play’s closing moments so dissatisfying. It’s as if those watching have been taken for a wonderful ride only to learn that when the train stops they’ve been delivered to the wrong station.

Attending Tryst is well worth both the time and money expended, for it showcases two fine actors who create characters who will stay in the viewers’ minds long after the curtain falls. That there is a final, false note takes nothing away from the fine work Maulella and Shanahan offer for the audience’s enjoyment.

Tryst runs through Saturday, Aug. 23. For tickets or more information call 227-4177 or go to www.westportplayhouse.org.

This review originally ran in the Norwalk Citizen-News.

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