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A taut Tryst at Seattle Public Theater
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A taut Tryst at Seattle Public Theater

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Tryst
Seattle Public Theater
Through October 25


An excellent period piece is playing at Seattle Public Theater for the next few weeks. Tryst, by Karoline Leach, is a mysterious and riveting work, simple on the surface and deeply complex if you peel back a layer. There are two characters: George Love, played by Brian Claudio Smith, and Adelaide Pinchin, played by Emily Chisholm. At the very beginning, each tells about himself and herself to the audience.

Love describes exactly what he does when he picks out a lower class woman to woo, wed and rob. Pinchin tells about herself, clearly making her exactly the type of woman Love looks for to cheat. They proceed to meet, and she proceeds to get cheated. OK, simple.

But Pinchin is not nearly what Love expects, since he looks only at the surface. Pinchin is a survivor with great instincts. She doesn't always use them, since her expectations of life are very low. In the second act, what you have been waiting for begins to happen. Pinchin seems to get the upper hand. Such a relief to feel that we're not going to watch a whole play about an asshole getting away with everything he does!

Smith as Love is proper, British, upper crust, snotty, and completely self-centered. All that is exactly as called for. Chisholm is shy, downtrodden, careful, scared, everything she is called to be. While they are both excellent, and Smith is as good as I've ever seen him, Chisholm is riveting. She inhabits the character body and soul, every gesture in place, every facial expression appropriate - in fact, Chisholm's personality is impossible to determine, so complete is her acting here.

A great set from Craig Wollam creates three areas: a traveling outdoor space, Pinchin's shop and room, and a middle section which becomes a hotel room. Panels allow the actors to go offstage but still be engaged in the performance. Pinchin goes behind a screen to make tea, for instance, but still talks to Love like she's in the other room. At the end, these screens become particularly important in a nice touch. Sound by Jay Weinland is coordinated with a Victrola onstage. Lighting by Richard Schaefer helps delineate where the action is, and creates the atmosphere.

Director Tim Hyland keeps a taut ship. The pacing may feel on the slow side, unless you have a background in the British culture of, say, 1930, and can appreciate the subtleties others might miss. The second act in particular unfolds with the quick delicacy of sliding open an envelope with a knife designed for the purpose. It's a very precise play.

Its application to present day is in the way a man takes advantage of the emotional life of women, especially those who feel they don't deserve any great love, and also in the dreams we all have to have a better life than we have. And finally, in wondering the question, "Can someone change who he is?" Love is challenged to redesign his life by Pinchin's vision. Can the hyena change its skin?

For more information, go to www.seattlepublictheater.org or call 206-524-1300.

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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