As the Irish are known for the gift of gab, it should be no surprise that The Irish Repertory Theatre’s Tryst is full of smooth talking. As an audience member, I found myself so wooed by the characters’ words that I wondered how it would end right up until it in fact ended. Tryst deftly achieves something paradoxically difficult: a clear vision of mystery. Through excellent character work, direction, and design, this production is both beautiful and energized from start to finish. Though at The Irish Repertory Theatre, Tryst is actually the work of British playwright Karoline Leach. It might be set in London and Weston Super Mare, but the play has quite a lot of “Irishness” in it, if you will. I have long been interested in Irish theater, both as a result of my heritage and my theatrical training. So it is that I can tell you some of the characteristics that make Tryst fit in so well. The beautiful language of Irish playwrights is often expressed in monologue form, as is the case in Tryst . Adelaide Pinchin (Andrea Maulella) and George Love (Mark Shanahan) tell their individual stories directly to the audience when not engaged in dialogue. Also, the mixture of comic moments with dramatic content is something often noted in Irish theater. This is certainly present throughout Tryst in a delicate way. We laugh at the situations, but we never laugh at the characters.
Instead, we learn a great deal about the humanity of both Adelaide and George. The performances given by Andrea Maulella and Mark Shanahan are both quite powerful. Shanahan’s self-professed con-man is exceedingly charming, and a good actor himself. In spite of, or perhaps because of, his honesty about his profession, we feel sympathy for him as we watch him lie. As soon as he sees his mark, Maulella’s meek and self-conscious Adelaide, he transforms before our eyes into a distinguished gentleman, complete with an upper class accent.
Maulella is the perfect foil to Shanahan’s bravado, creating a off-centered version of the Laura and Gentleman Caller relationship from The Glass Menagerie . Adelaide is fragile, and George wants to build her up. Yet because the motivations are so different than in the wholesome Tennessee Williams relationship, the audience is relegated to a state of constant questioning of exactly how much each character really knows and cares about the other.
Here I must pause and give credit to director Joe Brancato. It is often hard to see a director’s hand in productions, because all of the positive credit usually is given to actors and designers. But if you look for it, you can see a good director’s subtle shaping of a production. That is the case here. Several times I was struck by the excellent dynamics of the staging. Granted, I was seated so that much of the action faced me. I do wonder how I would feel if I had been seated in the bank of seats to the side. But I cannot stress enough how impressed I am at the visual variety Brancato achieves through blocking only two actors. Also, Brancato is an expert at integrating his actors into the mise en scene, something that is a key to any truly great production.
All the complexities of plot and character are perfectly supplemented by the scenic elements, which fully participate in the juxtaposition of known and unknown elements. Michael Schweikardt’s set is a chameleon. It begins as a stylized series of panels, instantly transporting us to a cold London street. Later we are treated to a much more realistic set, again fully functioning and appropriate. This transformation also owes a great deal to Martin Vreeland’s lighting design, which first creeps through the fog and then brightly reveals what has been hidden. Alejo Vietti’s costume design and Johnna Doty’s sound design are the final key players in this greatly unified design team, and each individual artistic choice forms a coherent whole.
This can be said for every aspect of Tryst . It is rare that I see a production which is so well conceived and executed on all fronts. The play itself is well-written and brings a surprising new take to a type of story that has been told many times before. In short, The Irish Repertory Theatre’s production of Tryst is a fantastic piece of theater, not to be missed. And I’m not just putting you on.