Karoline Leach’s period drama gets a first-rate production in its West Coast premiere at the Black Dahlia Theater. The two actors are each excellent, delivering emotional and detailed work. Robin Larsen’s direction keeps the dramatic focus sharp, and uses the available stage space effectively. Unfortunately, the play itself, which begins promisingly, descends from incisive wit to meandering melodrama.
In 1910 England, George (Gabriel Olds) makes his way by conning women out of their money. The kind of guy who picks up roses off of graves at the cemetery to give to his dates, George specializes in finding lonely single women, romancing and quickly marrying them, then taking their money and making a swift exit. “Leave them gawpin’ ” is his charming motto. All seems to be going as planned with his latest conquest, young milliner Adelaide (Deborah Puette), when unexpected feelings of sympathy and love complicate his scam and threaten his livelihood.
Olds is memorable as the bluff if slightly down-at-heel George, referring to his victims contemptuously as “its” and presenting himself to the audience as a rakishly charming antihero. He manages to display the humanity, rusty from disuse, behind the hubris, and makes George more than a standard petty villain. Puette, however, centers the show with her moving portrayal of Adelaide, a nuanced perf of repressed emotion finally finding an outlet. She demonstrates the strength behind Adelaide’s supposed fragility, and makes the contest between these two characters more than equal.
Craig Siebels’ stark set, a series of billowing orange satin curtains and a few pieces of furniture, is cleverly reconfigured throughout the play, a mobile maze through which the characters must proceed. Joel Spence’s sound design augments the various scenes, from city streets to a seaside village, with subtle skill, and Audrey Fisher’s layered costumes help bring both the historical period and the specific characters’ traits to life.