Sutton Foster and Zach Braff in Trust
(© Joan Marcus)
Sutton Foster and Zach Braff in Trust
(© Joan Marcus)
Four people find themselves on irreversible journeys of self-discovery in Paul Weitz's dark comedy Trust, now playing at Second Stage Theatre. And while their crosscutting paths to their newfound awareness make for initially interesting theatergoing in this stylish production, helmed by Peter DuBois, the play ultimately falters as Weitz's plotting becomes increasingly convoluted.

It's a bit of kink that sets the generally frothy piece in motion: Harry (Zach Braff), an unhappily married nebbish -- who's become a multimillionaire from the sale of a dot.com he founded -- visits a dominatrix on a "whim." Their session doesn't go as either of them planned and soon, Harry, who's learned that the woman's real name is Prudence (Sutton Foster), is asking if she'll have coffee with him.

Prudence's entry into Harry's world proves to have not only profound repercussions on him, but also on his depressed, passively aggressive wife Aleeza (Ari Graynor) and on Prudence's arrogantly genius boyfriend Morton (Bobby Cannavale), a man with anger issues and a bit of a gambling problem.

Weitz's set-up, from the brilliantly played opening scene in Prudence's dungeon to the moment when she and Aleeza discover that they might have more in common than either of them might have imagined, proves to be not only intriguing, but also the stuff of jaunty contemporary comedy. However, once Morton, who often seems as if he has stepped out of a play by David Mamet, has been introduced, Trust falters, and as Weitz schematically demonstrates that each of the characters is not the sort of person that they believe themselves to be, he also compounds the play with an unconvincing blackmail plot, tortured childhood secrets, and the inevitable romance between Harry and Prudence.

With each twist and turn in the script, though, the actors offer up keenly observed performances. Braff, with a winsome smile and a slightly boyish demeanor, makes Harry's nerdiness exceedingly appealing. He's deft with both physical and verbal comedy and can deliver some of Weitz's most cutting remarks with aplomb. When he tells Morton that "if you're gonna fuck someone's life...you better make sure you have a hard on," Braff makes it both hysterical and vaguely chilling.

Similarly, Foster (who looks equally at home in S&M gear and summer dresses both carefully chosen by costume designer Emilio Sosa) navigates the script with decided grace. And while it's no surprise that she can land Prudence's dry quips with finesse, the actress brings a sense of sadness and menace to the part that startles. Graynor and Cannavale deliver admirably, tackling Aleeza and Morton's sometimes enigmatic and contradictory actions with decided commitment.

Dubois' production unfolds with ease within the confines of grungy tiled space from scenic designer Alexander Dodge, which converts easily to various locations around Manhattan with a geometric chicness, that visually underscores the boxes of self-identification from which the characters emerge.