Chivalry is Dead

   If you think Edwardian England was a time and place in which chivalry thrived, think again. Karoline Leach’s dramatic thriller Tryst, onstage at Palm Beach Dramaworks through June 8, illustrates just how cruel feigned chivalry can be. A two-hander starring Dramaworks veterans Jim Ballard and Claire Brownell, Tryst is inspired by the true story of serial con man George Love, who married at least seven women between 1908 and 1914 and subsequently ran off with each beloved’s money. When the fictional George Love meets and marries Adelaide Pinchin, however, his plans to woo, wed and run are thrown awry.

Claire Brownell and Jim Ballard in a scene from Tryst. Photo by Alicia Donelan

   Director J. Barry Lewis successfully realizes an austere and chilling production, full of smart blocking, savvy technical design, captivating costumes and bold, believable characters. And this play is a tough one to direct—with just two characters onstage at all times, it falls upon the director to establish momentum and urgency. Lewis excels by manipulating tempo: He establishes a fast-pace cadence of dialogue before pulling back to a slower rhythm, only to build a crescendo to the last, shocking seconds of the production.

   The superb technical and costume design bolster the play’s eerie ambiance. Given the various locations the play demands, scenic designer Jeff Modereger created one backdrop that can be broken down and moved around to accommodate a number of locales and the actors’ movement. Stark ink drawings of early twentieth-century buildings tower over the actors, a chilling black-and-white landscape reminiscent of Jack the Ripper’s London. Add to this a delicate lighting design rich with dreamlike blue hues as well as masterful costumes by Brian O’Keefe, and the result is a transcendent trip back in time.

Jim Ballard and Claire Brownell in a scene from “Tryst.” Photo by Alicia Donelan

   Of course, a great portion of the play’s success is due to its two stars, Jim Ballard and Claire Brownell. Both are onstage for the majority of the production’s two hours and are asked to express a gamut of emotions. As the slimy George Love, Ballard portrays a confident and resourceful playboy, always able to come up with another lie or to convince others of his time as a British spy or of his mastery of languages. Through a series of asides that make up the first half hour or so, the audience becomes privy to Love’s scheming as well as the sincere desolation of his prey Adelaide Pinchin, played by Claire Brownell. One cannot help but sympathize with Brownell’s Adelaide, who at once exudes a palpable sense of ennui and a desire to live a fuller life. Few plays have as clear a protagonist/antagonist relationship as the one at the center of Tryst, and Brownell and Ballard’s performances take this dynamic from melodramatic to believable.

   Tryst is the closing production in what has been a stellar season for Palm Beach Dramaworks. Like many of its predecessors, Tryst is likely to haunt its audience until the next rise of the Dramaworks curtain.

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