Amelia Campbell and Maxwell Caulfield
in Tryst
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Amelia Campbell and Maxwell Caulfield
in Tryst
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
With a title that references a secret affair, Karoline Leach's Tryst fulfills its promise of intrigue, deception, danger, and romance. The play is flawed but consistently engaging.

It's a two-hander, set in England during the early part of the 20th century. George Love (Maxwell Caulfield) is a handsome con man who preys upon lonely women. His latest mark is Adelaide Pinchon (Karoline Leach), a nervous and self-conscious woman who works in the back room of a London hat shop. For awhile, things go according to George's usual modus operandi; he impresses Adelaide with a phony upper-class accent and a suave demeanor, asks her to run off with him and marry him, and gets her to bring along her bank book so that she can change the name on it once they're wed.

However, after they arrive at the boarding house in Weston Super Mare where they are to spend their honeymoon Adelaide's issues with her body and her dysfunctional relationship with her father come to the fore, sparking genuine feelings of empathy within George. His conflicted emotions cause him to jeopardize his scheme of getting his hands on Adelaide's money and then skipping town -- but when his deception is revealed, the play's tone shifts dramatically, and George and Adelaide engage in a power struggle whose outcome is difficult to predict.

Tryst begins with the characters directly addressing the audience, each giving his or her own perspective on how they came to meet. As George and Adelaide start to interact, the play switches over to a more dialogue-driven format, though occasional asides to the audience still occur. Leach incorporates plenty of humor in the script while also addressing class and gender issues that still have relevance today. Unfortunately, the play's conclusion is unsatisfying; it pivots on a crucial decision made by George that is dramatically unjustified, mainly because his character is not sufficiently fleshed out.

Caulfield cuts a dashing figure on stage, and his charm and sex appeal are important elements of his character. But he never seems sincere, even during his direct addresses to the audience. A sequence towards the end of the play that possibly reveals the childhood trauma at the root of George's delinquent behavior is so melodramatically played that it's patently unbelievable, though this is probably the only true information about his past that George offers. (He keeps changing the stories about his upbringing, so it's hard to be certain.)

Campbell, on the other hand, inhabits the role of Adelaide completely. She shows off the character's nervous tics without overdoing them. The speech detailing the emotional abuse heaped upon Adelaide by her father is genuinely moving, making it easy for us to believe that it would lead to George's change of heart. Campbell also convincingly conveys Adelaide's metamorphosis from the shy girl of the first act to the more confident woman of the second.

David Korins, who deserves an award for the sheer number of sets he has designed this season, has provided another excellent one for Tryst. The grim and imposing structure conveys the oppressive mood that hangs over the play while also representing the darkened, gas-lit streets of Edwardian London. The main wall of the set opens up to reveal George and Adelaide's cozy if dilapidated room in the boarding house; as usual, Korins's attention to detail is impressive. Jeff Nellis's lighting plays well off of the set's reflective surfaces, while Alejo Vietti's period costumes are simple and effective. Johnna Doty's sound design adds to the atmosphere of the piece with rain, thunder, and instrumental underscoring.

Director Joe Brancato keeps the production moving at a good clip, particularly the speeches to the audience. He allows the pace to slow during the scenes that are played out between George and Adelaide, yet the level of dramatic tension always remains high.