Review: ‘Trust’ @ Lookingglass Theatre



A typical suburban family is torn apart in “Trust.”

Annie is just trying to fit in. The cool girls at school only notice her because her brother is cute, soccer practice is increasingly becoming a chore, and she thinks she’s fat. Like any typical 14 year old girl, Annie’s going through some growing pains. Thankfully, she can turn to her reliable friend Charlie, who listens to her problems, gives sage advice and has a rabid interest in everything she does.

However, “Charlie” is a 35 year old man posing on the internet as a 16 year old high schooler from Connecticut. And Annie is just another conquest.

Trust is a deeply personal work for playwright and half-director David Schwimmer. He serves on the board of directors for the Rape Foundation of Santa Monica, with a personal focus on helping raise awareness on predators attacking minors online. Through this play, Schwimmer has the opportunity to dramatize a story that’s close to his heart, about a close friend whose daughter was groomed and raped by an internet predator.

So, what we get is a raw family drama told in a disappointingly one-dimensional way. Sure, there are bursts of creativity — mainly in the staging: instant messages shared between Annie (a stunningly natural Allison Torem) and Charlie are projected on a giant monitor behind the stage (which seemed to be missing a chunk? There was a gaping hole where a monitor should have been — not sure if this was intended or not). But something was irritating me — and not just that missing chunk of screen.

A friend who attended this performance with me is a trained clinician with a concentration on working with minors, and stated it perfectly: Schwimmer simply took on too much. There are so many psychological layers to rape — particularly when they happen at such a young age and when the rapist is someone whom the victim trusts. Unfortunately Schwimmer doesn’t dig deep into any of this, and zips on by with snippets of scenes, sketches of dialog and yelling matches. It’s a cautionary tale played out before us. Complexities and nuances are brushed aside to propel the action forward.

What makes this play, however, is the anchoring performance by Torem. The rolercoaster of emotions she has to play out in one scene when she first discovers who Charlie really is — and everything that follows thereafter — is enough to trip up any seasoned actress, and she handles it beautifully. A heartbreaking performance — and a challenging one, as any other less capable performer would have magnified the weaknesses in Schwimmer’s script. As her father, the cool Philip R. Smith doesn’t let the powerlessness and resulting rage overcome him to the degree the story seems to call for. Amy J. Carle (who was a raw and fearless Abbie in Goodman’s Desire Under the Elms when she replaced Carla Gugino) fares better as the supportive mother trying to keep her daughter and husband from falling apart.

However, this play, even with its flaws, is a good way to continue the discussion with your child about the dangers of online predators. After the show, a professional counselor is on-hand in the lobby to address some of the more tricky questions.

“Trust” plays through April 25 at the Lookingglass Theatre. For more information, visit lookingglasstheatre.org.

(This review will be posted on Edge soon.)

5 thoughts on “Review: ‘Trust’ @ Lookingglass Theatre

  1. Have you seen An Education? Though I haven’t seen Trust, it seems like the two works would make an interesting comparison. One thing I like about An Education is that it allows the girl in question (admittedly a couple of years older there) some sense of choice in her own destiny–she is not just a victim because of her age, but someone who made mistakes and learns from them rather than feeling ruined or broken by her disappointment.

    1. I have not, Diane — though I’ve been wanting to.

      Only movie I kept thinking of through this was “Hard Candy” — a much different child predator-type movie.

  2. Mr. Schwimmer and Mr. Bellin certainly did their homework or perhaps it was the extensive work as a board member at the Rape Foundation of Santa Monica. The writers most definitely captured the “grooming” process to an uncomfortable level, even with it being summed up in a 30 minute theater/multi-media production. After working at a child advocacy center and being on interviewing teams investigating allegations of sexual abuse against children, watching “Trust” put me right back there in that room with the one-way mirror. Tragically, the interactions between the characters, Charlie and Annie were all too realistic.

    The writers did attempt to pack in too much content for a production running a little over 90 minutes. It felt cramped and chaotic. It may have been the writers’ intentions to put the audience in a place where they feel the chaos and crisis that the family was experiencing by quick set changes and emotionally-charged performances, but I feel like the story could have sent more of a message with a more in-depth focus on one or two of the components that lead to the abuse of children (ie. the grooming process or the reactions of the child who experiences it) There is the strong sense that the writers wanted to expose the way technology has transformed the way predators prey on children, but I feel a bit of that was lost with the sense of urgency to get every little part in. I respect the attempt to educate people on a topic that is often frightening and avoided.

    The young Annie, played by Allison Torem delivered an accurate portrayal of a child who experiences sexual abuse. Working with kids at the advocacy center, Miss Torem’s performance had me reliving my days as a therapist. The disbelief, the anger, the hurt, the isolation–if she keeps this up, she’s got a great career ahead of her.

    The clinical therapist played by Christine Mary Dunford had me seething in my chair. This is where I felt that the play was a bit off. Coming from a background of working with children to young adults who have experienced traumatic events whether it be sexual abuse or being witness to domestic violence, the approach that Ms. Dunford takes to portray the social worker left me confused and thinking I would never want to refer someone to her. As blunt, confrontational, and cold, a child who is already hurt and has become untrusting and guarded will not open up and tell you his or her feelings. Especially a 14 year old girl. A 14 year old girl forced to go to therapy because her dad tells her “I think it’s a good idea.” Traumatized children need to feel safe, not judged, and unconditionally accepted. Ms. Dunford’s portrayal of a clinical social worker was the antithesis of what a child therapist should be.

    Finally, the exposure of child sexual abuse seems to be the hot topic these days. You’ve got “Trust” and the film “Precious.” I’m glad to see that people are starting to acknowledge the problem. It’s also interesting to see the contrast of the white upper-class and the poor African-Americans. In “Trust,” the family resides in the comfy suburb of Winnetka and has access to private therapists, resources, etc. “Precious” takes place in a poor low-income urban area where accessible social services appear few and far between. What if “Trust” were set in the scene of “Precious?” Would Annie have gotten the same treatment? Would she have had the same outcome? Who knows. One thing “Trust” does deliver is that: sexual abuse of children can happen to anyone, anywhere. It transcends race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, just to name a few.

    1. Thanks for sharing your unique and informed viewpoint! I particularly find interest in what you have to say about the therapist in this play. This role is such an overused device in plays to get an actor to express inner emotions. Cheap, in away.

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