Tryst, a CurtainUp review CurtainUp

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A CurtainUp Review

I'm what you'd call a careful person. Organised. I know what I'm after, I know what I want. And I get it. I live on my wits. And my charm. And I do quite nicely. . . --- George Love, whose carefulness also applies to his robbing gullible women by means of pretend marriages. None of this get in, get it out and get away. I spend the night with them and make love to them with tenderness and consideration. And I leave them smiling. I take pride in it. I like to think of it as quid pro quo.

Maxwell Caulfield & Amelia Campbell
Amelia Campbell & Maxwell Caulfield
(Photo: Jean Marie Guyaux)
It's a familiar story. A plain, love-starved spinster succumbs to a charming handsome stranger with strictly dishonorable intentions. To give it the appropriate ominous aura, set it in Edwardian era London. That's exactly what Karoline Leach has done with Tryst, currently making its Off-Broadway debut at the Promenade Theater. But if you think you know just what to expect, think again.

While following all the conventions of once popular spine tingling melodramas like Angel Street (or its movie version, Gaslight), Ms. Leach, an actress and director who is as yet a little known playwright, has constructed her version of the genre with a compelling mix of style and substance that cloaks it in an irresistible spell of emotional nuance and menace. Sure, even their names, Adelaide Pinchin and George Love, are presciently descriptive, and sure you know that flattery and his sleek good looks will get George what he wants: Adelaide's little nest egg and a valuable brooch. However, the seduction moves along a path crooked with unexpected twists and turns -- with the final one likely to lead to some spirited post-show discussions about the the credibility of the final twist.

To hook you into the smartly written two-hander, it's a must to have two actors up to the demands of portraying the meek but love and life starved Amelia and the wily but attractive George. Amelia Campbell and Maxwell Caulfield are everything you could hope for and then some. They work wonders with the interlocking little monologues through which they initially reveal themselves to the audience. Whether together or apart, the ghostly pale Campbell and the sexy Caulfield continue to rivet, for the entire two hours.

Ms. Campbell is the embodiment of a hat shop worker who seems to be shriveling up from lack of love, with not even the compensatory pleasures of a close family or enjoyable work. She manages to connect the effect of her father's emotional and sexual abuse with the confidence inspired by George's flattery. Since the father harasses her about being fat, it's understandable that the British production featured a rather plump actress. However, Campbell manages to take advantage of our knowledge about anorexia so that her thin face and body give Amelia an added poignancy. Perhaps this would have been even more effective if the playwright had, not only changed the title (originally The Mysterious Mr. Love), but added some mention about Amelia's following her eating binges with purging.

Edwardian dandies probably didn't bulk up with weight lifting as Maxwell Caulfield obviously does, but no one is likely to object to his very impressive pecs. That's not to say that Caulfield relies on his physical assets. His George is a slick piece of work but also often funny and even likeable. Unless you count a bare upper half of the bodity, the nudity you may have heard about, comes courtesy of the modest shopgirl.

The good writing and performances notwithstanding, this is not a strong enough play to bring melodramatic, psychological thrillers back into vogue. Some of George's image boosting sounds a bit too much like a present day class in self-esteem building, and while his sculpted torso doesn't detract from the Edwardian period authenticity, remarks like "a bloody good shag" do.

Director Joe Brancato has insured that the twisty, entertaining story is drenched in period perfect atmosphere. Designers David Korins (scenic design), Alejo Vietti (costumes), Jeff Nellis (lighting) and Johanna Doty (sound) help him to put 1910 London on the Promenade's stage both realistically as well abstractly.

As for that finale which, as already mentioned, is likely to leave audiences disagreeing about what really happened? Far be it for me to spoil any surprises. If you have trouble deciding whether George's final action is psychologically believable or the author's way of challenging you to sort the real from the imaginary twists, I would suggest that you use George's own words at the top of this review to help you figure it out for yourself.

Playwright: Karoline Leach
Directed by Joe Brancato
Cast: Maxwell Caulfield and Amelia Campbell
Set Design: David Korins
Costume Design: Alejo Vietti
Lighting Design: Jeff Nellis
Sound Design: Johnna Doty
Wig Design: Paul Huntley
Running time: 2 Hours, including one intermission
Promenade, Promenade Theatre (Broadway at 76th Street), 212/239-6200
From 3/21/06; opening 4/06/06
Tuesdays at 7PM and Wednesday through Saturday evenings at 8PM with matinees on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 3PM.
Tickets: 2 Hours, including one intermission
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on April 2nd press matinee performance
The production played 17 preview performances and a total of 77 regular performances through its closing on June 11th.
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