Chester Theatre Company's 'Tryst': An odd couple in Edwardian London

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CHESTER -- In a summer theater season awash with co-dependent couples, none is likely to be more haunting than George Love and Adelaide Pinchin, the twosome whom fate and playwright Karoline Leach throw together in "Tryst" at Chester Theatre Company, now through July 21.

He is a con man who separates vulnerable women from their money -- seducing them, figuratively, into marrying him and then leaving them with nothing after their wedding night.

She is a milliner on the edge of spinsterhood who lives a spare, private, almost reclusive life, sustained by a modest inheritance, an emotionally prized locket and a life more alive in dream than reality.

George is unlike any man Adelaide has met. Adelaide is unlike any woman George has conned. The blend is fateful.

"Tryst" originally was produced as "The Mysterious Mr. Love" in London's West End in 1997 before Leach revised the script and retitled it for its Off-Broadway opening in 2006.

Set in Edwardian London, the play is inspired, in part, by the true case of George Joseph Smith, who was finally brought to justice by Bernard Spilsbury, whose investigative techniques are said to have paved the way for modern criminology.

This production reunites Justin Campbell and Allison McLemore, who played opposite each other in Chester's 2011 production of "Turn of the Screw," and CTC associate artistic director Daniel Elihu Kramer, who directed "Turn of the Screw" and, in 2010, "Gulf View Drive," the third play in Chester's hugely popular "The Nibroc Trilogy," which co-starred McLemore.

Speaking by telephone in a post-rehearsal conference call from his office st Smith College in Northampton, where he chairs the theater department, Kramer said he had heard about "Tryst" but never seen it. When he and CTC artistic director Byam Stevens read the play, they both felt it was a natural for Chester.

"I was attracted by the layers in the play," Kramer said, "the back-and-forth between the two characters, the mix of artifice and the real. It's the kind of play you really want to dig into."

That mix of artifice and real, truth and concealment, trust and suspicion is fundamental to this ingeniously constructed psychological drama about two people, neither of whom is quite what they at first seem to be.

The challenge in playing Adelaide, McLemore said, lies in navigating the contrasting pushes and pulls in her nature.

"There is this beautiful-ugly difference within her between her dream life and her real life," McLemore said during the conference call.

"I'm still struggling, as an actress, to make credible that (Adelaide) is willing to marry this man after knowing him only three days and yet she is so smart.

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"I think she ends up trying to play his game a bit. But there is the question here -- how valuable is the truth? Is it sometimes better to be in the dark?"

"She's carrying a big secret," Kramer added, "and to carry a secret means to carry with you another life."

Campbell believes that underneath all of George's swagger and smug confidence lie fear and insecurity,

"He has a big secret also," Campbell said. "So he's living with that fear, that secret but he also has to be cool and casual.

"I think Adelaide breaks some of that down and chips through that. It's painful to open up your soul (the way she makes him do) and so he reacts."

Kramer, McLemore and Campbell agree that having worked together before and know each other well made this project more appealing.

"Going into that rehearsal; room knowing the people who also are there gives you space to take risks, to fail," McLemore said. "It gives us all freedom (to explore). We want to find the fullest way to tell the story."

On stage

What: "Tryst' by Karoline Leach. Directed by Daniel Elihu Kramer

Who: Chester Theatre Company

When: Now through July 21. Eves.: 8 p.m. Wed.-Sat. Mats.: 2 p.m. Thu., Sun.

Where: Chester Town hall, 15 Middlefield Road, Chester

Tickets: $30, $35

How: (1-800) 595-4TIX; chestertheatre.org


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