by Caroline Leach
Directed by Joe Brancato
Irish Repertory Theatre
132 West 22nd Street

Reviewed by David Spencer

Based on the review I wrote of Tryst  when it opened in 2006 for an open-ended commercial run off-Broadway at the late, lamented Promenade Theatre, you wouldn’t think it that evanescent an experience—yet as I watched the new production offered as part of the Irish Rep’s current season—I had almost no memory of it…until the very end when a little voice in the back of my mind kept insisting I’d seen the play before. In a weird way, though, this may be a tribute to director Joe Brancato; he directed it both times, and in revisiting, he seems to have rebuilt from the ground up. In part because with a new cast of only two, you must; and in part because the dimensions of the postage stamp Irish Rep stage—and its odd configuration with 123 seats out front and another 31 off to the left—demands a different physicality. Here’s some of what I wrote back then:

   A boilerplate description of Tryst has appeared on so many websites, both here and in the UK -- where an earlier version of this first play by Karoline Leach appeared as The Mysterious Mr. Love -- that it would seem a break with tradition not to include it here too. Indeed, it's a near-perfect boil-down. All I've added are the current cast members:

     "Part romance and part psychological thriller, Tryst tells the story of how George Love (Maxwell Caulfield), a handsome conman who woos loved-starved women, meets Adelaide Pinchon (Amelia Campbell), a desperate woman, who dreams beyond her mundane world at the local millinery store. Mr. Love has a history of illicit affairs, but after meeting the fantasizing shop-girl -- there is a twist of fate."

     Tryst is in fact an unexpectedly engaging two-hander that is a tour de force for the actors who inhabit it. It manages, in Act One, to stay just behind the audience's expectations, and in Act Two, when the game changes, just ahead of them; and in doing a bit of online research I was not entirely surprised to discover that between its West End and off-Broadway debuts, there have already been several stock and amateur productions, some right here in the United States. It's the kind of play that theatre companies like to discover: one that's easy to produce, that showcases their best talents, and tells a cracking good yarn into the bargain. A minor yarn to be sure, but one that holds you nonetheless.

     Research has also shown, surprisingly, that the central couple can be cast any number of ways. I found one San Francisco production where Adelaide was plump and verging on middle age, and George something of a duffer, mired in middle age, balding and hardly a matinee idol. Which raises interesting issues about the desperation of the characters and how much practical time remains for them to continue as they are or find their dreams.

     At the Promenade, however, a perhaps more conventional, and somewhat more commercial, approach holds sway. The characters, if not portrayed youthfully, are still perceptible as thirtysomethings. Mr. Caulfield is indeed the iconography of the dashing rogue...and if Ms. Campbell is not anyone's idea of a cover girl, with her elfin face given to scrunches and forehead wrinkles when she's expressing extremes, she is certainly adorable enough to make a "Why, Miss Jones, you're beautiful!" transformation without stretching credulity. Under the direction of Joe Brancato, they keep the emotional seesaw lively.

       In keeping with what I discovered about how variously the show can be cast, Brancato has given it a real shakeup with his two new players. Mark Shanahan certainly qualifies as a handsome rogue, but he’s edgier, darker, a little more desperate and with a little more darting wiliness—indeed his voice, energy and characterization sometimes put me in mind of Richard Burton on the cusp of middle age and dissolution. And as for Andrea Maulella, she unsentimentally delivers the perfect target for a Mr. Love: she affects(?) a gawky, graceless, fidgety, tightly-wrapped fortysomething spinster physicality and—there’s no other way to say this except to say it, because the context of the play makes it a factor, and I beg her forgiveness—she is unequivocally homely enough that a “Why, Miss Jones, you’re beautiful!” transformation would completely stretch credulity…it would be only George’s perception of her that has the potential to change so radically. But that gives a neat new spin to the proceedings.

     The gamesmanship of Tryst never reaches (nor aspires to) the giddy heights of Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth, but it remains a keen little sleeper, and it’s worth a visit.

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