Paul Weitz’s Trust (Second Stage) opens with a mildly amusing, Woody Allen–ish comedy sketch: A clueless rich guy (Zach Braff) in search of a thrill goes to a dominatrix (Sutton Foster) and discovers that they went to high school together. Disappointingly, the meager laughs generated by this quirky setup dissipate rapidly as Weitz attempts to stretch the sketch into a full-evening, semi-serious work without giving the characters any believable basis from which to grow.
The rich guy has an equally clueless and dislocated rich wife (Ari Graynor); the working girl with the whip has a tough-talking boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale) who dreams of big-score con games. Pulling these pipe-cleaner-thin characters through a lame attempt at a suspense plot dotted with intimations of blackmail, torture, and violence, Weitz has to twist them into mental contortions that considerably overshoot human credibility, even in genre entertainment, and also considerably overstay their welcome.
Unlike Jonathan Tolins, whose new Secrets of the Trade at Primary Stages (Voice, August 11) puts its characters in comic perspective, using irony to deflate the melodramatic expectations it sets up, Weitz’s outlook is dour in essence. His melodramatic reversals, though generating occasional laughs, merely flip his plot from expectation A to expectation B on the other side of the melodramatic coin. If you know the monetary system involved, the changes are all too easy to compute in advance. Trust‘s rich-boy hero, whose cluelessness turns out to be the mask of a master manipulator, recalls the driven yet motiveless instigator of the action in Weitz’s previous, and equally lame, essay in this antiquated mode of commercial diversion, Show People, also produced by Second Stage. Coupled with such other ventures in crepe-paper triviality as Douglas Carter Beane’s Mr. and Mrs. Fitch last spring, this institution’s predilection for Weitz makes you wonder if it might be striving to become the last outpost of 1950s summer stock.
Peter DuBois’s direction, smooth and bland, enhances Weitz’s script all too appropriately with glittery metallic sets by Alexander Dodge, the multiple wagons of which slide on and off, in M.L. Dogg’s sound design, to noisy metallic music. Foster, playing with quiet composure, often looks as if she wishes she were back doing her tap dance with rat puppets in last year’s Shrek, and I very nearly wished so, too, although Shrek bored me almost as much as Trust does. Graynor works with persistence, often to good effect, at her dimensionless role.
Cannavale, obliged to produce impossible reversals out of nowhere, like a magician’s silks, writhes mightily and energetically in all directions, but to no avail. Somebody needs to liberate this interesting actor from the street-schmuck stereotype in which he’s always cast: Couldn’t we see him, just once, as a foreign diplomat or a college professor? Braff, at the still center of all this clamorous inertia, carries on efficiently, but conveys neither any inner conviction nor any outer magnetism that might justify the role. On the other hand, asking him to carry out a task that the author has shirked would be unfair—almost as unfair as asking an audience to sit through the play.