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A CurtainUp Review

Something I learned a long time ago, Adelaide - there's only two kinds of people in the world, the takers and the took. — Con-man George Love.
Mark Shanahan and Andrea Maulella.
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
If Tryst were a paperback, it would could be a best-selling beach read. As a tightly crafted two-hander by Karoline Leach, it provides a fun way to spend a couple of hours.

Currently at the Irish Reparatory Company, this Edwardian psychological thriller offers an edge of romance, plenty of conniving, a dose of comedy and sharp suspense. With Mark Shanahan and Andrea Maulella, director Joe Brancato keeps the plot as tense and twisty as an Argentine tango. A series of flashy turns are quick to unveil layers that reveal depths of psychological complexity.

Mark Shanahan plays George Love, a good name for his line of work. He is a charming con-man whose livelihood is preying off spinsters — shy, repressed women wearing sensible clothes. He has learned to look for "a little inconsistency," that special, possibly expensive, touch on a dress that could indicate a tidy nest egg squirreled away some place. He;s manufactured a background of impressive credentials in diplomacy and a noble reason for why he is now unemployable. He's also learned to adopt a passable upper-class accent and he woos his marks with a flourish, pretends to marry them, grabs their money and is off on the next train.

Here's how George describes himself to the audience: "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." This is his self-help mantra and delivered with desperation in his voice. From the first scene, it is obvious that George's success ratio does not look that impressive, judging by the landlady who's waiting for her rent and his one good suit. In addition, he is not getting any younger.

George strolls the streets searching for his mark. Like a shark, he spies a mousy milliner, Adelaide Pinchin (Andrea Maulella), with awkward fluttery fingers. On her chest he sees the "little inconsistency," a small sparkling brooch left to her by beloved Auntie Myra. When George, spiffed up like a dandy, approaches her, she is nervous and apprehensive. However, as he seems to show genuine interest in her, she all too quickly allows herself to sink into a whirlwind romance. Everything happens so fast, it seems almost too easy. Adelaide is charmed into eloping with George and, of course, sharing her bank book. However, as they begin their wedding evening, he realizes that she is quite a bit more complex than he thought. She is not enthusiastic about his recipe for making love, preferring to fuss with tea and sweets and a game of cards. And so Tryst develops into a back-and-forth game of manipulation.

Past family traumas have obviously damaged both characters. Their dialogue steers the plot into unexpected territories and the point of view constantly shifts as layers are unveiled. The thrill of romance takes a back seat to happiness in the life one has now. Or does it? Leach's plot with its stunning swift ending keeps us aware that this is a play about the mind as well as the heart.

Joe Brancato deftly handles the pace and sees to it that the shifts between the characters speaking to each other and addressing the audience are fluid. He controls suspense and bursts of humor from both of these well-portrayed characters. While Adelaide appears to have no self-confidence, Andrea Maulella perceptively reveals her depth, showing her private dreams and a clear-eyed ambition and pride. Mark Shanahan displays a vulnerable core in George that he fights to keep controlled within his template of heartlessness. George's street lingo narration contrasts seamlessly with the educated accent he has assumed. The rapid verbal exchange between the two characters in Act II is especially compelling.

Michael Schweikardt's scenic design with theatrical fog, a Gramophone, gas lights, and a turntable set provide convincing dank moods of Edwardian England. The sound of rain and thunder by Johnna Doty, and Martin Vreeland's lighting all contribute to the tension and threat of impending danger. Alejo Vietti provides the right touch with costumes for Adelaide and George.

The play has its questionable points, but not enough to keep it from being an entertaining and suspenseful,a theatrical get-away.
Tryst by Karoline Leach
Directed by Joe Brancato

Cast: Mark Shanahan and Andrea Maulella
Sound Design: Johnna Doty
Set: Michael Schweikardt
Costume Design: Alejo Vietti
Lighting Design: Martin Vreeland
Dialect Coach: Stephen Gabis Running Time: 2 hours with intermission
Irish Repertory Theatre: 132 West 22th Street. 212-727-2737
Tickets: $55.00 - $65.00
Performances: Tues-Sat at 8pm. Wed.,Sat., Sun. matinees at 3pm.
From 7/01/110. Opening 7/07/11. Closing 8/21/11.
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors based on performance 7/05/11
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