Volume 76, Number 3 | June 7 - 13, 2006

Photo by Jean Marie Guyaux

Maxwell Caulfield & Amelia Campbell embark on an emotional roller coaster ride in “Tryst,” now in an open run at the Promenade Theater.

A con at first sight

By Jerry Tallmer

She, Adelaide Pinchin, a lonely, self-effacing virgin of a certain age who slaves away in the back room of a shop just off London’s Edgeware Road, making hats for fine ladies, is convinced she’s “too fat to be seen” (she isn’t) and has never stopped dreaming that some day the right man will come along.

He, George Love, or so he calls himself, is a smooth rapscallion who lives off his wits, that is to say off lonely women exactly like Adelaide Pinchin whom he can romance, flatter, and walk away from – run away from – with their pitiable life savings and any hockable jewelry.

“It’s a surgical operation when I do it,” George says. “This is the way it goes: I see one, size it up. I move in, always watching my back, leaving nothing to chance. Charm it up, act smitten, bowled over. After a few romantic meetings you look in its eyes and ask if to marry you before any one can stop it …

“And I do give them a good time. I always go through the formality of the wedding night. None of this get it in, get it out, and go away. I spend the night with them and make love to them with tenderness and consideration. And I leave them smiling. I take pride in it. I like to think of it as quid pro quo, if you know what I mean.”

It is November 15, 1910. A cold bloody morning. “No money. No breakfast. Down to my last ha’penny.” And then George Love looks in through a shop window and sees Amelia Pinchin putting a hat on display. He smiles at her, she smiles back.

That’s how “Tryst” begins – a play by Britain’s Karoline Leach, well-known for her writings on Lewis Carroll – and well before you’re 20 minutes or so into it, you will long for these two people – especially George, for all his crookedness – to really, deeply fall in love.

Actress Amelia Campbell longed for it, was aching for it, the first time she read “Tryst,” and she plays Adelaide – to Maxwell Caulfield as George – in the production directed by Joe Brancato that’s at Off-Broadway’s Promenade Theatre on an open-ended run.

Plays Adelaide so beautifully, wistfully, appealingly – with some little odd nutshell in her voice – that this playgoer was thrust back in recall of no one so much as the Julie Harris who once gave us a never-to-be-forgotten Frankie Adams of “The Member of the Wedding.” And then looked in the program and saw that Amelia Campbell had in fact once played Frankie Adams in “The Member of the Wedding.”

“Thank you,” Ms. Campbell said when apprised of the recall. “That’s lovely. I saw Julie Harris when she did her Emily Dickinson show, and she actually came to see this show. She’s a friend of my mother-in-law. She came back, was very complimentary, and said: ‘I love her,’ meaning Adelaide.”

Amelia Campbell’s mother-in-law is actress-author-playwright Barbara Dana, which is to say that Amelia Campbell’s husband is actor/director Anthony Arkin, third and youngest son of Barbara Dana and Alan Arkin.

“I know, I know,” Amelia Campbell said of her own aching hope, all through her first reading of “Tryst,” that George Love, who steals Adelaide’s bank book and treasured locket but then comes back with the goods, in spite of himself, because – well, could it be love? A consummation (in several senses) devoutly to be wished as “Tryst” wends its way toward a stunning, jolting climax.

“What a great play for both of the actors,” Ms. Campbell said. “I didn’t realize how funny it was until the audience started to laugh.” Maxwell Caulfield’s George brings out a lot of those laughs.

“The man in this play is psychologically damaged,’ the actress said. “One of the reasons it works is because they both are. He’s a con man who finds little mousey women and takes advantage of them. Gives them one night of pleasure because he really believes in that.”

How do you, Ms. Campbell, relate to little mousey women?

“Me? Oh, me? How do I feel about being mousey?” Thinks, thinks, thinks. Finally: “I’ve shared similar issues, let’s put it that way.” Thinks, thinks. “What a wonderful role. Unusually complex and challenging.”

She had to read up on her English history to keep up with some of the references. For instance, when boasting about his colorful past, George throws in that he was “with General Gordon in Calcutta.”

“Khartoum,” Adelaide interjects.

“Pardon?”

“General Gordon was at Khartoum.”

“Yes, but he was in Calcutta first. I was attached to his general staff in a civilian capacity.”

General Charles Gordon, British hero killed in the siege of Khartoum, 1884, was never in Calcutta, and Adelaide knows it. For her, it is the first tiny tip-off, a sudden little warning flag, that things aren’t altogether what they seem to be. At a later point Geoge’s gaffe will, you may be sure, zoom back in again.

Amelia Campbell, of Scottish/Irish heritage, daughter of Katherine (Kitty) Beer, writer and environmentalist, and of Gary Campbell, writer and English teacher, now deceased, was born in Montreal and grew up in Ithaca, New York.

Her Frankie Adams in “The Member of the Wedding” was in 1989 for the Roundabout company when it was down on 17th Street, off Union Square. The director was Harold Scott. I wish I’d seen it.
 
TRYST. By Karoline Leach. Directed by Joe Bancato. At the Promenade Theatre, Broadway at 76th Street, (212) 239-6200.

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