Watching Karoline Leach's “Tryst” is like staring at an old daguerreotype and watching the gray figures first become animate, then gradually more dimensional and distinctive, and then startlingly contemporary. It is a beautifully crafted script requiring actors with both technique and authenticity, and direction that surely controls the meticulous revelation of a shifting relationship between subtle and complicated characters. This production has it all and Tim Hyland directs two marvelous actors to a performance that is riveting and deeply satisfying, a story that amuses and entices us into caring about two people who are simultaneously good and no good for each other, empowered and manipulated by a fraud that develops in ways that neither of them expects. The resolution is genuinely surprising and, best of all, it feels completely right, inevitable after the fact.
George Love is an Edwardian ne'er do well, a scoundrel and a cad who makes his way by luring lonely, unsuspecting women into false marriages so that he can steal their money and move on to the next victim. Brian Claudio Smith plays him with just enough over-the-top arrogance that he is laughable to the audience but not ridiculous, not apparent, to himself. “I live on my wits,” he says, “On my charm. And I do quite nicely.”
Adelaide Pinchin works in the back room of a millinery shop, crafting beautiful women's hats and staying out of public view, relegated to the separate working areas where she and the other “defective” women are segregated from the tasteful customers. Adelaide knows exactly who she is, expects very little from life, desires but does not expect love. Emily Chisholm is brilliant in bringing this plain, decent and genuine woman to life. The play depends upon the contrast between George's falsity, his deception and duplicity, and Adelaide's authenticity. Ms. Chisholm is particularly successful in creating an equation where Adelaide is continually adjusting their mutual circumstance based on newly discovered fact, adapting and accepting what is real as that reality is revealed. Beneath this performance is an enormous challenge that we never suspect that what we are seeing from Adelaide is performance. That sense of artifice must always be George's. His conflict is in having a relationship with a woman who insists on his truthfulness, his interpersonal honesty, something with which he has very little experience. That is not the way he understands the game, and playing by her rules leads him into dangerous and unsustainable territory, into an intimacy that is fatal. It's a stunning dramatic arc for these two people and for the play.
Because this is such a character-driven play, the actor's understanding of the text, of the relationship, and of the motivations of the action are critical to making it all work, and that's where Tim Hyland has done such an exemplary job. Both of these characters are Edwardian types, but the performances and the direction make them very distinctive and fully-realized individuals. He is perfectly tuned to the levels of the expression and the nuance of the power balance between them. The action is beautifully paced and the dramatic emphasis on how and when they change each other is remarkable. The tension is tightened so gradually, so continually, that we are surprised to discover that we've arrived at such extremity in the conclusion. It's a fine piece of work, as carefully stitched and designed as any of Adelaide's hats.
The physical production is attractive, with a functional set by Craig Wollam and very nice costumes by Zoey Liedholm. The show is well-lighted by Richard Schaefer. Kate Forster's dialect coaching gave the actors just enough accent to put us in the time and place but not so much as to draw attention to what they were doing. Period music by Jay Weinland added a nice accent.
“Tryst” is an excellent piece of playwriting and this is a first-rate production. The acting and directing is splendid. Seattle Public Theatre gets their 2009-2010 season off to a terrific start with this artistic, intriguing and satisfying production of a play that feels like something pulled out of a dusty trunk in an old attic, and found to be a portrait of ancestors we've heard about but never seen, faces filled with experience from another time, but very, very like out own.
PICTURED BY: Emily Chisholm as Adelaide and Brian Claudio Smith as George
PHOTO BY: Paul Bestock