Fine Performances in Thriller 'Tryst' At TheaterWorks
By FRANK RIZZO
The show: “Tryst” at Hartford’s TheaterWorks
First impressions: Story of a con man in 1910 London who weds, beds and then sheds spinsters of their modest fortunes has its appeal in this fast-moving production that has suspense, romance, comedy, thrills and enough psycho-socio drama to keep Dr. Phil buzzing for a week's worth of episodes.
But despite a pair of fine performances by Mark Shanahan as the charming rogue and Andrea Maulella as the mousy shopgirl, the erratic nature of the play and characters and the contrived series of turnarounds give the work a schizophrenic feel that keeps it from being a clear, crisp, crackling melodrama. Still, the final twist is a beaut.
Which is...? No spoilers here but a few audience members practically jumped out of their seats. But the rest of the show promises more than it delivers.
What does it promise? At first, one might gather it’s a straight-forward thriller with some black humor. Set in Edwardian England, it presents one penniless grifter, George Love, desperate for a new mark and his new target, a delicate-looking, lonely single woman, Adelaide Pinchin, who wears a broach she inherited and has a few bob tucked away, too. She works in the back room of a hat shop with other social misfits. “We all got something wrong with us,” she says, “that’s why we’re in the back room.”
As played winningly by Shanahan, the narcissistic bounder with fading good looks is “never cruel. I always go through the formality of the wedding night -- and I leave them smiling.”
It’s a whirlwind romance and George quickly sweeps Adelaide off her feet, marries her and off they go to a seaside honeymoon -- all in the first act. But when the second act begins and the wedding night commences in earnest, that’s when the psychological character points get piled on, the plot strands get tied up in knots, and the tone of the play pivots again and again. Karoline Leach’s play is “The Heiress” on crack.
The two actors who narrate their stories as well as perform within them, give splendid performances. Maulella almost makes you believe in her transformation from stunted daughter with self esteem issues to a formidable force of her own that will keep an audience guessing -- and gasping -- at the outcome. Shanahan’s character see-saws between sympathetic rogue, to man of conscience, to a kind of Sweeney Todd. Both actors have played their roles in previous productions at off-Broadway’s Irish Repertory Theatre and Westport Country Playhouse (as well as other venues), all directed by Joe Brancato, so this version is well seasoned. It also moves so swiftly, all the better to deal with the narrative speed bumps.
Production values are again extraordinary at TheaterWorks, with Michael Schweikardt’s set, Martin E. Vreeland’s moody lighting and a great sound design by Johnna Doty.
Who will like it? Those who enjoy for a good old-fashioned, period melodrama with some suspense.
Who won’t? Those who believe “well-made plays” should be well-made.
For the kids? Not really, especially since there’s brief but full nudity.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less? If only there was Match.com in Edwardian England.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot? There’s something about period melodrama that puts an audience in a forgiving spirit. We want to be enthralled, shocked and amused by lurid goings-on -- even though we know in our hearts we are not seeing great writing. Call it a “guilty pleasure,” even when there are flaws, it’s hard not to like -- at least a little.
The basics: “Tryst” plays through Sept. 9 at City Arts on Pearl, 233 Pearl St., downtown Hartford. The running time is 2 hours, including one intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; weekend matinees (check dates) at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $50 to $63; student rush $17; an all-free matinee for college students and faculty, sponsored by Bank of America, is Saturday, Aug. 18 at 2:30 p.m. Information by calling 860-527-7838 and on line at www.theaterworkshartford.org.