My dear WMNR listeners:

For the past months I have been exhorting you to buy tickets to the Westport Country Playhouse’s production of the play, Tryst. It is on stage now through August 23 and I highly recommend this two-character thriller set in London and Weston Super Mare in the 1900’s.

In 2006, on Off Broadway, I was fascinated when I saw this bewitching study of human behavior written by Karoline Leach. Although the two actors are not the same, and there are slight differences in the staging, the work is as breathtaking as the original. That is because the language and ideas have a bite that lasts way after the two hours with intermission ends; the playwright develops her characters with a depth of understanding, so that we really care for them, and director Joe Brancato keeps the action and the audience on a tight, taught rope, never letting cast or audience off the hook.

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

But in the end the drama falls upon the shoulders of the two actors; in this case, Andrea Maulella as the plain and lonely Adelaide Pinchyn, who stitches hats hidden away in the back room of a milliner’s shop, and Mark Shanahan, as George Love, a down-and-out, love ‘em and leave ‘em con-man, are marvelous. Shanahan does not give the exciting, dramatically stylized interpretation as Maxwell Caulfield did; his is a more natural portrayal, moving smoothly between the handsome lover wooing his prey, telling her she is pretty, and the poor bedraggled man, who is starving and can’t pay his rent. “I always leave them smiling,” Love says, and later—“There are the takers and the took.”

Adelaide seems every inch “the took,” when the play begins. In two days, while clutching her precious brooch left to her by her Aunt Myra, she leaves her family and job, runs off to a seaside town with George, secretly marries him and readily signs off her tiny inheritance of 50 pounds. There, Tryst takes off in ways that could not be imagined. A cat and mouse game between the two ensues. They each confess their abused backgrounds; Adelaide becomes stronger; she admits she knows the truth, and tries to convince George to go straight, and fulfill her dream of opening a hat shop. The twists and turns of plot and character lead us on a merry chase. The shocking finale proves without a shadow of a doubt that one cannot be too careful when dealing with a criminal mind.

David Korins’ set design, lit by Jeff Nellis, as was the original, is stunning. The first act and last scene appear to be a black jail-like brick wall; the second act cleverly morphs into the boarding-house room. Alejo Vietti’s costumes are fine; outstanding is Johnna Doty’s Sound design-with eerie music always playing lightly in the background and the chilling clang of a door resounding. Tryst will play at the Westport Country Playhouse through August 23

(Joe Brancato has been involved with Tryst since he saw it in a tiny theatre in the West End of London. My advice: leave it alone; it is great as it is.)

This review originally aired on WMNR 88.1FM FINE ARTS RADIO

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