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A CurtainUp Review

So why do you want me to meet her — Prudence (a dominatrix)  
Well I thought maybe. . . I mean what you said — about your job, about being like a shrink. Well, she's been going to a shrink for years, but . . . it doesn't seem to do any good. — Harry
Sutton Foster and Bobby Canavale (Photo: Joan Marcus)
There is an inherent cleverness in the way that Weitz has manipulated the lives and relationships of his four equally unlikable characters and the way in which they become unwittingly entwined. Unfortunately, the play, under the polished direction of Peter DuBois, is not empowered by a thoughtful or persuasive insightfulness, but rather by a comically-driven superficiality that gradually and gratingly becomes merely condescending.

Harry (Zach Braff) has the appearance of a curiously self-made if also clueless naïf who hopes the rewards offered by a professional dominatrix might turn out to be compensation for his disconsolate and desolate marriage to the frigid, bored and desperately lonely Aleeza (Ari Graynor.) Here's the hitch to their marital incompatibility: Harry has made a killing, netting himself hundreds of millions of dollars by selling off the company he owned and miraculously becoming successful. Let's say this happened when times were good.

Harry doesn't have to work any more and has become a full-time philanthropist. Having more money than he will ever need works for him but not especially for Aleeza who apparently as a result of all this sudden wealth has completely withdrawn from pursuing her dalliance as an artist, shopping at Barneys, or loving Harry. She even reads a book while he is under the comforter performing fellatio. What's the poor guy to do but look for a little outside recreation? He could do worse than a therapeutic session with Prudence, the immediately accommodating and well-equipped dominatrix, as played by the leggy and lovely Sutton Foster. Some easy laughs are worked in as Harry hangs a few feet off the floor in wrist locks. Whatever further sexual dynamics might be in store for Harry become moot when he recognizes Prudence as a class mate in his youth at Stuyvesant High School, on whom he had a crush.

What happens when Harry thinks it a good idea for him to bring Prudence home to meet and surreptitiously analyze Aleeza? Prudence does find it a bit awkward and deceptive to put it mildly. What do you suppose happens when Aleeza exposes the ruse even as Harry finds himself falling in love with Prudence who has all to do handling the degrading relationship she has with Morton (Bobby Cannavale,) the brainy, hunky neer-do-well who lives off Prudence's earnings. The plot thickens, or curdles, as it will, when Morton decides to blackmail Harry, who turns out to be smarter than he thinks.

The biggest problem with the play is that no one is smart enough, empathetic enough, or even interesting enough, for us to give a hoot. Weitz does inject just enough Exposition 101 to serve as elementary background for each of the characters, none of which is especially revelatory. A more significant background is provided by set designer Alexander Dodge: a brick wall splattered with black paint that looks like a Rorschach test serves as the entry for various set pieces and locations.

Some of the casting may actually be at fault in how we perceive the characters. While its good to see Sutton take off her dancing shoes and replace them with black leather hip boots and a whip (she snaps it like a pro,) this otherwise versatile performer seems less consigned to showing us the permanent psychological damage done to her by a sexually abusive father than in modeling the hilariously fearsome costume designed by Emilio Sosa.

Notwithstanding the theatre, TV, and film credits that might suggest Braff suitable as the stubbornly self-sufficient Harry, he doesn't go beyond the modest demands afforded him. This can't be said of Graynor, who makes the most of Aleeza's inevitable emergence from the deep freeze. Cannavale, who earned himself a Tony nomination for Mauritius, is terrific as Morton, the reckless loser who unwittingly turns out to be a winner by means of a plot device that seems curiously arbitrary. But that is, sadly, also the way the other characters come to terms with their "warped" natures.

I admired the two previous plays by Weitz also produced by Second Stage Theatre , Privilege about the salvaging of a family facing financial ruin and Show People about people who are not who they pretend to be (reviews by Curtainup editor Elyse Sommer: reviews: Privilege and Show People). They remain finer examples of Weitz as a writer of integrity and intelligence. While the physical and emotional application of torture is well defined in Trust's scenes set in the studio of a dominatrix, it's too bad that at times I felt I was on the receiving end as I watched four emotionally corrupted people who are destined to compliment, make that identify and satisfy, their psycho-sexual needs.

Trust by Paul Weitz 
Directed by Peter DuBois
Cast: Zach Braff (Harry), Sutton Foster (Prudence), Ari Graynor (Aleeza), Bobby Cannavale (Morton)  
Set Design: Alexander Dodge 
Costume Design: Emilio Sosa 
Lighting Design: David Weiner 
Sound Design: M.L. Dogg 
Running Time: 2 hours including intermission 
Second Stage Theatre, 305, West 43rd Street 
(212) 246 - 4422 
Tickets ($70)  
Performances: Tuesday at 7 PM, Wednesday – Saturday at 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM and Sunday at 3 PM 
Previews began 07/23/10 
Opened 08/12/10 
Ends 09/12/10 
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 08/11/10
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