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.)