I normally review the Dramaworks productions in some depth, but this is a more abbreviated commentary as we did not attend our usual first preview or dress rehearsal as Dramaworks refers to it. Instead, we had the pleasure of attending Opening Night, so I will look forward to reading what the pros have to say just like everyone else.
But we did attend our usual luncheon with the cast at Dramaworks, after which the play was discussed by the actors and the always knowledgeable and charismatic director, J. Barry Lewis, who pointed out that Tryst is somewhat of a departure for Dramaworks. It’s not a well-known classic play. But judging by the opening night, it was produced with Dramaworks’ usual careful detail to scenic design, costumes and lighting, bringing out the best the play has to offer.
And it’s an unusual play because of the characters’ interaction with the audience, breaching the fourth wall frequently, perhaps more in touch with the audience than with each other, pleading their cases. As Mr. Lewis explained, it used to be called “story theatre,” the actors speaking directly to the audience. The overarching themes of reality perceived vs. reality, the struggle between the masculine and feminine, and trusting one’s heart, resonate continually. The play is set on the eve of the women’s suffrage movement in England further highlighting these issues.
|Don Thomas (lighting), Brian O’Keefe (costumes), Claire Brownell and Jim Ballard (actors), J. Barry Lewis (director) discuss the play|
Actors Jim Ballard and Claire Brownell discussed the differences between a “two-handed play” and an ensemble production, particularly the enormous burden it puts on each actor to carry half the play, both on stage for two hours without relief. Even the rehearsals are intense as there is no downtime for the individual actors as in a larger production.
The multiple scenes in the play require the audience’s involvement, the actors creating the beginning of the illusion, along with sound effects, lighting, and the swift changing of props, and the audience having to fill in the rest. Don Thomas, who did the lighting design, said he chose to see the story through the eyes of the cad, George Love, played by Ballard. As Thomas said, “he isn’t pretty and the lighting conforms.” And side and overhead lighting is extensively used to create shadows (portraying the dark side of the play). The first act alone has some seventy lighting changes.
And indeed the production seemed to meet all the standards discussed at the luncheon, a two character play that holds the audience spellbound in its melodramatic grip, set in the period Ann and I enjoy so much, early 20th century England during the times of PBS’ Mr. Selfridge and Downton Abbey! The costumes and the set perfectly capture Edwardian England. Its premise is universal; a con is a con is a con, for monetary gain or in capturing a trusting heart, there is a “Mr. Love” predatorily waiting to take advantage of the weak. Sometimes, and delightfully for the audience, the predator is exposed.
|Jim Ballard and Claire Brownell|
The two hour production, with an intermission, flies by thanks to the skillful direction provided by Mr. Lewis and the compelling performances of Dramaworks’ veteran actor Jim Ballard as George Love and Claire Brownell as Adelaide Pinchin in her second appearance at the theatre. In particular, Ms. Brownell inhabits the role of the demure Adelaide, who, during the course of the play, with prodding by George (although that is not his altruistic intention), begins to find her own inner strength while George’s perceived charismatic force and ulterior motives are revealed. Indeed, they discover a commonality of abuse they both suffered from their fathers which has crippled both of them in profound ways.
Playwright Karoline Leach uses a number of contrivances to bring the play this far. It would be a spoiler to list them, but the conclusion, in my opinion, which some found disturbing, fits the essence of what was revealed on stage, and how the characters were changed by one another. Is Tryst great theatre? No. But between the acting and the production elements, Dramaworks’ version is well worth seeing.
The production is directed by Resident Director J. Barry Lewis, and features scenic design by Jeff Modereger, costume design by Brian O’Keefe (whose costumes were designed not only for the period, but for the fast changes that take place on stage), lighting design by Don Thomas, and sound design by Rich Szczublewski. A special mention should be made of the work of the dialect coach, the renowned Gillian Lane-Plescia who indeed helped make the characters sound like they are from their appropriate Edwardian English class (although George is feigning his), enhancing the production’s verisimilitude .
Perhaps I would have written a more detailed review if I was in my usual “reviewing mode” but opening night interceded! Ann and I agreed it was delightful to attend this occasion with the generous librations and delicious spread of tasty treats, but especially the affectionate accolades for actors, staff and crew: all so well deserved by Dramaworks, a threatre with a vision -- and mission accomplished for the 2013/4 season. We are looking forward to next season!
Resident Director J. Barry Lewis and Ann On Opening Night