Friday, April 30, 2010

A Friend's 'Trust' Proves Remarkably Rewarding

Theater Review

a new play by David Schwimmer and Andy Bellin
Lookingglass Theatre, Chicago

In the first four months of 2010, I have seen--and reviewed here--13 plays. Almost were written by either legendary or highly esteemed current playwrights--including Eugene O'Neill, Samuel Beckett, Clifford Odets, John Patrick Shanley, David Mamet, Tracy Letts, Rebecca Gilman and others--with productions directed by acclaimed directors like Robert Falls, Amy Morton, Anna Shapiro, Rick Snyder and BJ Jones.

Contrary to a much more hit-or-miss reaction to plays I've seen in the past, I have found almost all the plays I've watched this year to be highly enjoyable, giving all but two at least @@@@ (out of 5). But there have only been two productions I awarded @@@@@--Mamet's American Buffalo, directed by Amy Morton at Steppenwolf and Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman, directed by Kimberly Senior at Redtwist Theatre--and thus found more entertaining and/or enriching than Trust, co-written and directed by David Schwimmer at Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre.

Although Schwimmer founded Lookingglass over 20 years ago, well before rocketing to fame and fortune on TV's Friends, and has directed and/or acted in many theatrical productions, he seemingly does not have any prior writing credits for the stage, screen or TV.

Long involved with Santa Monica's Rape Treatment Center, he had the idea for Trust--about a 14-year-old girl who interacts online with an older man (i.e. a cyberstalker) and winds up meeting him and agreeing to a sexual encounter--and initially directed it as a film (seemingly for release next year) written by Andy Bellin and Rob Festinger. Bellin is credited as Schwimmer's co-writer on the stage version, with Lookingglass Artistic Director of New Work Heidi Stillman co-directing the inaugural theatrical production now extended until May 9.

Especially with many performances now available at half-price through HotTix, I strongly suggest you get to it. For not only do Schwimmer and his collaborators create a disturbingly engrossing, thought-provoking play, wonderfully acted throughout (especially by Allison Torem, a 19-year-old who convincingly plays Annie, the emotionally-conflicted victim), they have produced one of the most modernistic dramas I have ever seen.

Perhaps the use of internet chat rooms, text message conversations, iPhones and other current contrivances--all displayed on a huge video backdrop, which also serves to innovatively illustrate a variety of settings--will one day date this take on a subject that long predates the internet age (Lolita anyone?) but right now it seems completely fresh, original and extremely topical to the point that a rape counselor is present in the lobby at every performance.

While Schwimmer and Bellin's writing is pretty straightforward--nothing really happens plot wise that you wouldn't expect--they do throw in a few inspired subtextual nuggets like the fact that Annie's dad is a partner in an ad agency creating campaigns featuring scantily-clad young models (think Calvin Klein) or that his middle-aged partner openly lusts after girls much closer to Annie's age (albeit technically "legal") than his own.

And as the very talented playwright Rebecca Gilman unfortunately demonstrated in the recent Goodman disaster, A True History of the Johnstown Flood, sometimes aiming for something overly artistic or allegorical can result in a night of theater far less rewarding than a more modest approach to a compelling subject.

For although in subject matter and even its characters, Trust is never all that far from feeling like a Lifetime movie or an after-school special of old, and I'm not suggesting that Schwimmer can now claim to be a playwright on par with Mamet, Shanley, Letts, Gilman or any of the legends, it isn't a stretch to say that he, Bellin, Stillman and all others involved have created the most compelling new dramatic work I have seen this year--and considerably beyond, probably dating back to when I saw Doubt in 2007.

That sounds a bit strange and excessive even to me, as it would rank Trust above August: Osage County, A Steady Rain, The Overwhelming, Harper Regan, The History Boys, Graceland, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, Rock 'n Roll, The Seafarer, Superior Donuts and many other critical smashes, most of which I liked tremendously.

But in truth, my only doubt about Trust is why I'm not giving it a full @@@@@ instead of 4-1/2. I can't acutely explain it, because it didn't deviate far from perfection, but @@@@1/2 just feels a bit more apt. Even if only among Friends.

1 comment:

Greg Boyd said...

"The Pillowman" at Redtwist was marvelous, wasn't it?

I probably won't get a chance to catch this one, honestly. I'm likely going to see "Hepheastus", the other Lookingglass production currently playing. It looks good, though.