Boy meets girl, boy cons girl, boy steals girl's money and honor — or does he?
The nature of self-delusion is explored with disturbing results in "Tryst," a dark, disquieting Edwardian psychological drama by Karoline Leach now performing at off-Broadway's Irish Repertory Theatre.
Leach has written a clever send-up of the standard gullible-female-meets-dastardly-villain scenario. Mark Shanahan portrays con man George Love with zeal, scoring laughs with his disheveled expressiveness even when the proceedings aren't so comical.
George preys on vulnerable women with any easily accessible money, but still considers himself a kind, generous man. He marries each woman and gives her one night of lovemaking, which he considers to be the "quid pro quo" for when he disappears the morning after, leaving the women penniless and heartbroken.
Things change for George when he meets a fretful, shy but talented hatmaker named Adelaide, played to nervous perfection by Andrea Maulella. In small, fluttering gestures, Maulella delicately reveals the reasons Adelaide is brimming with self-hatred. But beneath the surface of a seemingly easy mark, Adelaide is steelier than she appears, and she upends George's modus operandi in unexpected, heartfelt ways.
The production is directed by Joe Brancato with a sure hand that builds the suspense in this battle-of-the-damaged-sexes thriller.
Michael Schweikardt's moody set transforms from a bleak, foggy London street to a down-at-heels seaside boarding-house room, in which the plot twists and turns pile up in the second act, aided by subtle lighting and sound design and Alejo Vietti's neatly detailed costumes.
Maulella and Shanahan subtly and expertly provide convincing hope that their characters can transcend the narrow roles proscribed by their class and unfortunate circumstances.
"Tryst" is performing through Aug. 21.