If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan


“Whose game is this?”, George Love bellows in frustration to his new wife in “Tryst”, the recent off-Broadway drama currently on stage at the Westport Country Playhouse. It’s a good question. Up to this point the callous conman, who has swept the repressed Adelaide Pinchon off her feet into a whirlwind wedding, seemed to be holding all the cards. But if you think you know where “Tryst” is going, guess again. Karoline Leach’s fascinating character study keeps you intently listening and on continuous edge. You may be as stunned as poor George Love by curtain. This is easily the best production the WCP has offered in what has otherwise been a lackluster season. Let’s give thanks.

Set in the early 1900s and borrowing a fair share from Henry James’ literary classic Washington Square (which, itself, become “The Heiress” on stage and film), Ms. Leach goes a few steps further to see what would actually have happened if the phony gent had gone through with his plans to woo and marry the unsuspecting plain Jane heiress. Smartly directed by Joe Brancato with a striking sound design by Johanna Doty, “Tryst” moves swiftly and pointedly as George sets his sights on the homely shop girl who just happens to have a bit of money on the side. It is to the play’s credit – and its sterling cast of two – that this subversive romance has such an energized, contemporary feel and is also, at times, wickedly funny.

Mark Shanahan is a tad overly emphatic early on in the play but then settles in to give a very polished and surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of a cad who has more depth than you realize. He easily convinces as a former stud going to seed while still grasping for power and control over the ladies as the years start to tick by. With her sloped shoulders, pinched face and hair pulled back in a severe bun, Andrea Maulella is terrific as Adelaide: funny, sad, poignant and, ultimately, much smarter than you think. It’s a truly memorable performance.

And just when you are sure you’ve guessed the outcome, you suddenly realize these two people may have more in common than you (and they) initially thought. Ms. Leach throws us a curve and takes us in another direction time and time again throughout “Tryst”. It’s a fun ride.

In addition to the superb sound design, the production also benefits significantly from David Korins' forboding scenery, Jeff Nellis’ expressive lighting and Alejo Vietti’s fine period costumes. The brief nudity featured at the play’s climax is also tasteful and necessary. If, at the end, it’s not quite the “romantic thriller” that the press promises, “Tryst” may be something deeper in the long run. Something quite a bit deeper. See it.

“Tryst” continues at the Westport Country Playhouse through August 23rd. For further information and ticket reservations call 203.227.4177 or visit: www.westportplayhouse.org.

Tom Holehan is co-founder of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tom@stratford.lib.ct.us. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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