‘Tryst’ at Washington Stage Guild by Sydney-Chanele Dawkins

It’s a thin line between love and hate.

Oh, the things that we will do for love, or the semblance thereof. More than a wishful, flight of fancy, love is a basic human need. Love is the powerful, intense emotion of personal attachment; it’s that passionate feeling of sexual desire and attraction toward a person with whom one is disposed to make a pair. It can mean a tender romance, solicitude, or the euphoric, ineffable feeling of affection toward a person.

Love is giving someone the power to destroy you, and trusting that they will not.

Hate, a passionate emotion like love, usually deriving from fear, is seemingly irrational, hostile, and can lead individuals to both evil and heroic deeds. Lovelorn, intimacy-deprived people will often do the unfathomable, in pursuit of a romantic relationship – often accepting less than is deserved – a sacrifice far too many pay for the chance of an intimate, connection to another human being.

Adelaide Pinchin (Emily Townley) and George Love (Felipe Cabezas).Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Adelaide Pinchin (Emily Townley) and George Love (Felipe Cabezas).
Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Sometimes, the cost between the delicate balance of love and hate, is the difference between life and death.

The suspenseful, unnerving, and emotionally jarring D.C. Premiere of British playwright Karoline Leach’s Tryst – is presented by Washington Stage Guild in the second production in their 27th season of life lessons: lives lived, lessons learned, prices paid. With virtuoso craftsmanship Kasi Campbell directs this provocative, two-person character study and delivers its soulful impact with aplomb.

Tryst is a knockout! You don’t realize the incremental sly twists and turns that sneak up you, until you are faced with one huge, emotional wallop after another.

Set in London in 1912, Tryst is a suspenseful drama about transformation, that dances with the complexities of dating, pursuit and surrender, and reveals the depth and hard to shed psychological scars of an abusive childhood.

George Love is a conscientious, manipulative, ‘gentleman’ con man with a history of lies who preys on unmarried women. He seduces, exploits, and after romancing them, he steals what little of value that they have. Down on his luck, George roams the streets of London looking for a plain face with a hint of emotional hunger and the signs of a steady income or a nest egg. One day, by chance or as fate would have it, the charming George meets his match – Adelaide Pinchin, a lonely woman of routine, self doubt, and repressed fantasies, who works in the back of a milliner’s shop making hats, ‘where the unattractive are kept out of sight.’

Neither thinks that they are deserving of love – hence the deception and the attraction. Life unexpectedly gets very complicated … for them both.

While George and Adelaid’s world remains fixated on their differences, they realize perhaps too late how difficult it is to sincerely trust someone who has a secret past, as there will always be doubt to whether what they say and what they do is genuine, or an act. The dissonance between what is being said, what is desired, and what is actually true will tickle your wit, and makes for a dynamic, edge of your seat, fist- clenching, engaging evening of theater.

A picture can tell a thousand words but what does an empty picture frame reveal? That question posed by Jie Yu’s clever set design – a floor to the ceiling, empty picture frame centerpiece surrounded by seven other multi-sized, empty picture frames – is imaginative and brilliant, and a framed subtle reminder throughout the play. The lighting and sound design by Marianne Meadows and Thomas Sowers is effectively minimal and clean, appropriately focused on the characters.

George Love is smartly dressed by Kirk Kristlibas’ costume design with a simple, sartorial elegance in a dark grey pinned striped suit and velvet purple vest, topped with a derby hat. Adelaide hates mirrors, is obsessive about her perceived weight problem and is dressed accordingly in a dark, graceful, flowing skirt and unobtrusive, high collared white blouse.

Emily Townley is perfectly cast as Adelaide Pinchin, but it’s the nuanced vulnerability, her unpredictable choices, and the emotional courage that make her performance special. She’s totally in the moment. Townley credibly embodies Adelaide’s raw, self loathing while convincing with her character’s hopeful self confidence. It is her attention to detail that make Adelaide’s character one you cannot take your eyes off. The delicate way she holds a cup of tea, the measured breaths at one moment and longing sighs in another, it’s the nervous twitching at George’s touch, and the way she grabs his hand subconsciously fumbling with her broach or handling her hat – little details that speak volumes. Townley’s genius, complex interpretation of this believable, dignified but confused, sympathetic character stretches far beyond Karoline Leach’s written words.

Felipe Cabezas has the difficult job of making the calculating, maneuvering George – “I’m never cruel, … I always go through with the formality of the Wedding Night and leave them smiling” – into a likeable, or at least relatable human being. He succeeds. Cabezas is riveting and is at his best in the scene where George breaks down – emotionally naked, revealing truths about his duplicitous past one moment, and then seconds later, a complete recovery. The old George is back. The intensity and range of George’s emotional arc, and the seamless back and forth transitions are magic.

Remember these names: Emily Townley and Felipe Cabezas. Their futures are bright. The spectrum of Cabezas and Townley’s talents are not totally unfamiliar to D.C. theatergoers. Cabezas was seen last fall in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (Round House Theatre). They performed together in A Bright New Boise at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. These two scintillating acting talents are a force to be reckoned with, and are sure to fascinate, and be rewarded.

For some, the ending may not come as a complete surprise. No matter, the acting and directorial finesse of this production make you lose your sense of time and place. In fact with only two characters spinning this tale in the intimate space of the Undercroft Theatre, I didn’t feel like I was watching a play at all, and forgot that I was surrounded by an attentive audience. Imagine being a fly on the wall. It felt like I was witnessing the actual encounters of Adelaide and George, and the audience was eavesdropping on a conversation.

This production of Tryst is more personal than merely digesting dialogue performed from a play and being entertained. Townley and Cabezas’ congruent sense of timing, space, and delivery … the natural, pitch perfect consistency of their British accents, and their undeniable chemistry, and cadenced interaction with one another is energizing, and invigorates this Edwardian melodrama.

What is it about Kasi Campbell searing direction and her incredible ability to cast the perfect actors who evoke the most amazing, gut wrenching, visceral, and honest performances every time? Like Jon Hudson Odom and Kelly Renee Armstrong, the two powerful leads directed by Campbell in last season’s Yellowman by Rep Stage (captivating performances that still haunt me to this day), I want these two Tryst performances by Emily Townley, and Felipe Cabezas seared into my memory, never to be forgotten.

Adelaide Pinchin (Emily Townley).and George Love (Felipe Cabezas). Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Adelaide Pinchin (Emily Townley).and George Love (Felipe Cabezas).
Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

I have to go see it again, and I highly recommend that you sneak away on a tryst of your own and see it too.

Love. You can’t live with it. You can’t live without it.

Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

Washington Stage Guild’s Tryst plays through January 25, 2013 at the Undercroft Theatre at the Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church – 900 Massachusetts Avenue Northwest, Washington, D.C.  For tickets call (240) 582-0050, or visit them online.


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Sydney-Chanele Dawkins
Sydney-Chanele Dawkins is an award-winning feature filmmaker, film curator, film festival producer and a theater/film critic and arts writer. She also serves as an impassioned advocate for the Arts as Chair of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts in Alexandria, VA. Fearless. Tenacious. Passionate. Loyal. These characteristics best describe Sydney-Chanele's approach to life, her enthusiasm for live theater and the arts, and her cinephile obsession with world cinema. Her successful first film, 'Modern Love is Automatic' premiered at SXSW in Austin, Texas, and made its European debut at the Edinburgh Film Festival. She recently completed her third film, the animated - 'The Wonderful Woes of Marsh' - which is rounding the film festival circuit. In 2013, Sydney-Chanele produced the box office hit,Neil Simon's Rumors for the McLean Community Players at Alden Theater, Her next producing effort in 2014 is Pearl Cleage's 'Blues for an Alabama Sky' for Port City Playhouse. Programmer for Cinema Art Bethesda and Co Chair of the Film Program for Artomatic, Sydney-Chanele is the past Festival Director of the Alexandria Film Festival, the Reel Independent Film Festival,and Female Shorts & Video Showcase. She is active in leadership and programming positions with DC Metro area Film Festivals including: Filmfest DC, DC Shorts, the Washington Jewish Film Festival, Arabian Sights Film festival, and AFI Docs. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions - [email protected] [Note: Sydney-Chanele Dawkins passed away on July 8, 2015, at age 47, after a battle with Breast Cancer.]


  1. I saw this on Sunday and it has haunted me ever since. My wife and I rarely, if ever, go to a play twice, but we both agreed that this is one we want to see again. Glorious acting, a great script, and the Stage guild’s usual fine design, direction, and overall ambience. Certainly one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time.


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