Trust – Mock and Roll
A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE
Okay, speaking of trust, I trust most of my colleagues in DelMarVa small theater review. It’s sort of a tight group, as you might imagine. Jason Crawford Samios-Uy, who heads up Backstage Baltimore, is a gem of a person and as smart as they come. Ditto some of the folks at Maryland Theatre Guide and DC Metro (particularly Patricia Mitchell, her reviews are fantastic). In the case of Trust, the Steven Dietz currently playing at Fells Point Corner Theatre, though, it’s gonna have to be an agree to disagree situation, because I’ve read their analysis (linked at the bottom of this page, in case you’re curious) and it’s like we weren’t watching the same play. I’ve spent nine days musing on why I did not respond to this show, and I believe I finally wandered onto it: I think Dietz is one of the most pompous, overrated, deeply stupid playwrights around, and why regional theater companies keep doing his stuff is a mystery to me. Hey, I’m honest, y’all know that. And this shit is honestly terrible.
The thing with Dietz is that it sounds good, at first. He’s not a bad writer, he’s witty in places, and slick, and he’s got a lot of good one-liners. The problem is that there’s almost nothing underneath of that and what is there tends to be howlingly cliché ridden (“He’s the kind of man that can take everything from a woman except a hint,”) and, at times, misogynistic. It’s like some of the “deep” conversations that I had trying to inhale my first joint correctly while staring at boys at my college common room drum circle meetings (yes). Trust involves the trials and tribulations of a set of loosely connected white people trying to find romance and happiness in the early 1990s. Some of these people are famous, or are supposed to be famous, though this fame thing is mostly window dressing and not what Dietz really wants to talk about. They couple and un-couple and the whole thing is meant to seem really serious, but it’s corny as shit, super soapy and, like I said, at times hard to take (gay relationships are the result of straight relationships gone wrong, I mean, what the hell, why not dabble, right, EYEROLL?).
Dietz also has no idea how to write women, which is especially obvious in the character of Becca (Valerie Dowdle). Dowdle is always absolutely fascinating to watch, and she bravely does her best with this material, but Becca is the poster child for how men think women talk when they don’t bother listening to them ever. She’s presented as straight-up fucking nuts, her motivations are baffling, and by the time we get to her allowing her ex-boyfriend to forcibly shave her legs for no reason at all, I was done. Leah, an aging rock goddess who is now reduced to hawking her CDs in Barnes and Noble, comes the closest to approximating a human female, but that’s mostly because of Laura Malkus’ determination and earthiness. Also, she can really sing, did you guys know that? I’d have gladly paid admission to watch Malkus do ninety minutes of karaoke favorites, no lie. Rachel Roth is my favorite actor on Baltimore’s small stage lately, she blew me away in Vagabond’s All My Sons not too long ago, and I adored her frowny, no-nonsense approach to the part of Gretchen, who is another question mark for me narratively (she was sort of in love with Leah once upon a time but is now suddenly into noxious Becca, who Gretchen falls for while sewing her big, white, heterosexual wedding dress, seriously).
Okay, okay, maybe that’s not fair. Maybe Dietz just doesn’t know how to write anyone, because TBH, the men don’t fare too well here either. Cody, played by David Shoemaker and his torso, is supposed to be a mega-famous rock star, but either Shoemaker isn’t playing him as as much of an asshole as he should or Dietz doesn’t understand how to write swagger, but I didn’t buy it. Is he supposed to be talented or not? Humbled by fame or a thin veneer over a huge ego? We will never know, because no one ever gets that far. Not that this entire endeavor isn’t hampered by Dietz’s wearying structure, which he prioritizes over content like no-one’s business: the show is divided up into vignettes, which are introduced by way of silly beatnik-coffee-house style titles. At some point, I realized that director Michael Byrne Zemarel (who is also in the show, playing sad-sack public radio announcer Roy) was really, truly, going to take this thing absolutely earnestly all the way to the end and I kind of gave up. Zemarel is a good director, and I’ve praised him to the hilt on this blog before, but this time he mistakes melodrama for actual drama and the results are not good.
Also, if you go to this thinking that you’ll revel in a 1990s nostalgia moment, you’re going to be disappointed. The play was written in 1992 and so the text has more of an 80s throwback feel (“Hair big enough to vote” is not normally associated with the 1990s). The period feels non-ancillary in the design, also, this could be any day, leather pants and cut-up t-shirts have been L.A. standards since the 1950s. Nothing here feels especially period, certainly nothing screams grunge plunge or riot grrl or ‘zine culture or punk revival or anything, not even the awkward incidental music (though Mark Scharf has my favorite part in the show, as a bored looking guy with a guitar who functions as a kind of Greek chorus of one). In fact, the set (Bush Greenbeck) is sort of half-assed, with posters hanging on the wall featuring those 90’s favorites, The Bangles and The Monkees. There’s a cool spinny effect with a bar that appears out of a wall, but that’s about it. In fact, when the design does hit on a 1990s touchstone, it feels accidental and almost like a mistake: at one point weirdo loser Roy comes striding out in a long, black trenchcoat that is obviously stuffed with something long and metal in the pockets and I got kind of excited and thought, “Holy shit, this is about to get weird,” but nah.
BOTTOM LINE: I do not like Steven Dietz my man, I do not like him Sam I am. Trust is an exercise in naval-gazing that did not land for me, especially at a time like this. Despite fairly strong performances from a more than competent cast, this was the weakest choice I’ve seen from Fells Point Corner Theatre, which has been a powerhouse for at least a year, in a long time. But my opinion is only one, and clearly my comrades enjoyed it, so what do I know.
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