Critics of online dating argue that users can lie to potential partners about everything from their height to their income. But what about courtship in the supposed good old days, when a mere lunch date could be enough to persuade an aging woman who still lives with her parents to marry a chap?
One might imagine a profile for the man in question in Karoline Leach's new play "Tryst," set in England in 1910. "Name: George Love. About me: A world traveler seeking modest woman with sweet face and small hands. Occupation: I'll tell you later."
Back then you couldn't Google the guy. If Adelaide Pinchin had been able to do so, she might've found out that George, who courted her for only a few days before proposing and eloping, had been married many times before. His habit is to make love to his bride on their wedding night before skipping off with her valuables. Of course, this time things go wrong. Adelaide is such a sweetheart that George goes soft.
The play, which was produced as "The Mysterious Mr. Love" in London's West End in 1997, begins pretty straightforwardly, with the scheme playing out as expected. But when George's plans unravel, things become a bit muddled, and it's more difficult to believe some of the characters' actions. George's climactic breakdown reveals a trite explanation for his life of exploitation.
Still, the final scenes are intriguing in their exploration of how far desperate people will go to find even a glimpse of happiness. The situation recalls another depiction of British lower-class despondency: Mrs. Lovett's relationship with Sweeney Todd, trying to hang onto a man she refuses to believe is too selfish and tormented to have a meaningful relationship.
As portrayed by Maxwell Caulfield, George manages to seduce the audience, despite his unequivocally evil goal. The nonchalant asides in which he reveals the methods of his deceptions are amusing. And at her best, Amelia Campbell is stunningly convincing as Adelaide, conveying the character's sad situation while maintaining her dignity.
Despite the play's flaws, Leach has created a crisply constructed piece of good, old-fashioned storytelling that makes for diverting, if not mind-blowing, entertainment. But men, don't take the woman you just met online; that would be awkward.
TRYST. Directed by Joe Brancato. Promenade Theater, Broadway at 76th Street. Tickets $45 to $65. Call 212-239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com. Seen Sunday.