REVIEW: Trust (Lookingglass Theatre)

An uncompromising, heart-wrenching look at internet predators.



By David Schwimmer and Andy Bellin
Directed by David Schwimmer and Heidi Stillman
At: Lookingglass Theatre Company, 821 N. Michigan
Through April 25 (more info)

By Catey Sullivan 

Toward the final third of Trust, one of the supposed good guys tosses off a line that shows with stark authenticity how victims of internet pedophilia and so called “date” rape are brutally, casually and constantly re-victimized by mainstream society.

Raymond Fox, Allison ToremFourteen-year-old Annie (Allison Torem) has been raped by a 35-year-old she met online when he was posing as a high school sophomore. Her father Will (Philip R. Smith), having just jeopardized a major client at work, finally explains to a colleague that he’s been distracted because of the crime. The co-worker, horrified, sympathizes. Will keeps talking, explaining that Annie’s rapist groomed her for months in chat rooms before meeting her at a mall and then taking her to a hotel room.

Oh,” says the colleague (Keith Kupferer) with palpable relief. “I thought you meant she was attacked. “

It’s then that you realize that Annie hasn’t been victimized only by a pedophile. She’s also getting it from upstanding, law-abiding adults – the sort of good people charged with keeping children safe in any civilized community. Trust illustrates with harrowing accuracy the vast, ingrained and wholly accepted practice of how that safety is violated by a society that routinely diminishes rape’s violence by qualifying it: If the rape happened on a date, if it was by an acquaintance, if the victim wasn’t snatched by a stranger, if she went to the hotel room without screaming, if she sent suggestive e-mails before hand – well then, phew. That’s not so bad. At least it wasn’t the bad kind of rape.

Except for of course, it was. All rape is bad. And those facts are driven home relentlessly in Trust, penned by David Schwimmer and Andy Bellin (based on a screenplay by Bellin and Rob Festinger).

Directed for the Lookingglass Theatre Company by Schwimmer and Heidi Stillman, Trust isn’t a perfect play. It has its movie-of-the-week moments. But it also packs a high-intensity emotional wallop, thanks to an overall excellent ensemble and an extraordinarily powerful performance from Torem as Annie. Moreover, it’s with merciless authenticity that Trust depicts the ever-increasing circle of damage that occurs as a result of Annie’s rape. The high-school soccer player is the immediate victim, but Trust also shows how her attacker (Raymond J. Fox) thoroughly poisons her whole family.

The piece is also uncompromising in its refusal to tie everything up. Unlike on television’s CSI, sex crimes tend to drag on for months and often, even years. The cops are understaffed. The FBI spends most of its budget fighting terrorists. And guys like the one who devastated Annie? The know how to vanish. As Torem’s heart-breaking performance illustrates, they also know how to manipulate the victim until black seems white and bad seems good. Despite what police, her therapist and her parents tell her, Annie “knows” that the man who raped her loves her. Even as her behavior grows erratic and her moods ever darker, she believes all would be well if only she were left to be with the man that she loves as deeply as he loves her.

Were it an easier play, Trust would end when Annie finally faces the worst about her attacker, the promise of recovery a certainty. But to its credit, this is no an easy play. Annie confronts the worst, and then spirals dangerously downward, moving from angry to suicidal in the time it takes to call up a Myspace page.

Amy J. Carle, Allison Torem, Morocco Omari, Philip R. Smith Philip R. Smith
Spencer Curnutt and Allison Torem Trust-porch

With an equally vivid and disheartening sense of truth, Trust also shows how  mass-marketed pop culture  often seems designed to provide pedophiles with constant stimulation. Structurally speaking, it’s a bit contrived that Annie’s father is immersed in an ad campaign that glorifies adolescent sexuality. Contrived or not, it works. It’s tragic and ironic that Will’s career has him bringing the ‘tween market to the Academic Appeal (read: American Apparel) clothing corporation via images of barely pubescent boys and girls posing in their underwear. If Annie’s rapist wants to stoke his libido, all he has to do flip though Elle for Girls.

The taut, 90-minute drama also knocks the foundation out from under the fallacy that allows wealthy, stable and loving families to believe they are immune to tragedies like the one that unfolds in Trust. Victims like Annie, so many misguidedly insist, are the product of neglectful parents, poverty or broken homes. Yet Annie’s Wilmette family is close. They eat together. Her parents monitor her chat room buddies. Against the wiles of a predator, they’re sheep obliviously headed for the slaughter.

There is no happy ending here, just a sense that maybe Annie and her family will somehow survive, perhaps stronger, perhaps wiser, certainly sadder and angrier and robbed of a priceless, innocent confidence in the basic goodness of their world.

With  its final scene, Trust leaves the audience heart-wrenched and exhausted .

Whether the script would have that same emotional heft with an even slightly less seasoned cast is a valid, question. Annie’s parents, her best friend, the assorted social workers and FBI workers – all are saddled with characters who react more than anything else. In an ideal dramatic world, the story that propels the characters as much as the characters propel the story. Here, the latter dominates.

Despite that, Trust works dramatically. It is also visually strong, with appropriately tech-heavy use of computer projections, video (Tom Hodges), and IMs appearing as characters type them.

Slick and riveting, Trust is a show of urgency and – sadly – great timeliness.

Rating: ★★★½



Resource Guide

Our Lead Community Partner, Rape Victim Advocates, has created the following resources on families and technology.

3 Responses

  1. 3.5 stars? Really? The only part of your review I even mildly agree with is when you describe the play as “movie of the week” and I say mildly agree because this play was entirely movie of the link. I remember turning to my friend and saying “man, this is SO a lifetime movie.” the story is obvious and follows the archetype of stories like this. If I wanted archetype I would watch to catch a predator, and in that case I could save myself an extra 45 minutes and hear about new and exciting snuggie offers. The urgency you discuss is completely unearned, and appears near the end after the play hit a slump that seemed to last an eternity. Oh no guys, I think they’re dozing off, better bring em back for a moment with a surprise suicide. Um, no, that’s ok, I’ll pass. First, wouldn’t that myspace page be up in a matter of days? I mean, come on. I feel the need to update the world the second my pizza arrives, I’m sure those kids were just as eager to inform the webiverse of Annie’s inclination for male genitalia. Second, do you honestly think that would do it? That’s what would push her over the edge? She was already paraded in front of them, she was already the topic of gossip. What little rep she had has already been eradicated. Would she really care that much? I have trouble believing she would. Preachy, obvious, unearned. Trust tries desperately hard to be hip, and does so in a way that would
    make even Diablo Cody wince.

  2. Greetings John –
    Obviously, we had totally different experiences. You think mine was totally off, I think yours was – unfortunately (actually, fortunately) there’s no Critic Appeals Court that will decide which of us needs an attitude adjustment.
    I am, however, gonna argue that just because a story is predictable doesn’t mean that said story also automatically lacks emotional heft and solid storytelling. You could (Indeed, I think I will argue) argue that Romeo and Juliet is totally predictable, and West SIde Story is nothing but an after school special (Racism is Bad!) with music. And while I’m certainly not – think I’ll capitalize that for emphasis NOT – comparing David Schwimmer to William Shakespeare, I am saying that just because you know where a story is going doesn’t discount the power of the story. The thing that makes predictability unbearable is when it is accompanied by hackneyed performances and condescending preachiness – neither of which did I find in Trust. (I’d really be interested to hear where you found the preachiness in the piece. Knowing the subject matter, I was on hyperalert for didacticism going in. Didn’t hear, see or sense it anywhere. Yes, the play makes it quite clear that pedophilia is bad and can destroy families – but that’s not preachiness. That’s a story reflecting one of life’s horrible truths.
    Moreover, in a culture (that would be ours) where phrases like “date rape” actually exist, plays like Trust – which point out the insidiousness, rock-solid blame-the-victim foundation we all walk around on every single day – are quite urgent indeed.
    So yes *** and 1/2 stars. The half is because some of the characters are underwritten – But even the most underwritten roles (hello Annie’s Mother) were so well performed, that the flaws could be forgiven.

  3. Give ’em hell, Miz Sullivan! You delivered a strong review and you stood your ground regarding your conviction. It’s almost a shame there isn’t a Critics Appeals Court…
    Don’t ever stop sharing your unique perception of the theater scene with the rest of us!

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