Love may be hard to find, but trust is even harder. The regional premiere of Trust, a new play by expatriated Denverite Steven Dietz (he now lives in Seattle), dives into the shallows of contemporary lust and longing to prove just how tough trust is to come by. Funny, twisted and reflective of the manners and mores of this period and this society, Trust spins one-liners, complicated jokes and complex characterizations of superficial people into a veritable whirlpool of comic antics.
Director Tom Rowan's crisp inventions, his darkly funny take on the passions of the play and his choice of cast help to atone for the script's rather weak dramatic structure and somewhat foggy vision. The actors create their characters so successfully that by the end of the evening you feel well acquainted with each and every one--not that you'd really want to know any of them. It's a relief to encounter them solely on a stage.
The play opens on a freeze-frame: The characters are all assembled and sit unmoving in their places. Gretchen begins to speak about beautiful Becca, telling us what she sees Becca going through as she sits pretending to be interested in some boring date: "Does he really think I look like I need another story?" and "He's the kind of man who can take everything from a woman but a hint."
Over the course of the play, we gradually discover the connections between these characters. It's a jungle out there: Women eat up each other's men, and men--or at least one man, Cody--are buffetted about by their passions for the women, not so much seeking new sexual encounters as falling into them. Becca loves Cody who wants Leah who rejected Gretchen who now loves Becca. Holly just wants a rock star (who happens to be Cody), and Roy wants Holly--or anybody else he can get. Poor Roy: Shy, sweet and wimpy, he may never have a genuine relationship with a woman, but he gives the most dazzlingly hilarious monologue of the evening as he recounts his social failures and his kleptomaniacal compensations.
As Roy, the public-radio announcer, Brad Allen Brown steals the show whenever he is on; he's the one you remember best when you leave the theater. But each of the actors contributes something peculiar and amusing. Penny Alfrey's porcelain beauty serves Becca well--she's all sweet, genuine womanhood until she discovers her fiance's betrayal, and then the porcelain cracks, showing sharp edges and dripping acid. Kurt Muenstermann's Cody is sometimes boyish, sometimes calculating, sometimes nasty--adding up to a fine portrayal of a scumbag. Heidi Olson's Leah mingles scary self-absorption with a thin streak of common decency; it's a worldly, knowing performance. Trudi Carin Voth invests her mean-spirited bohemian groupie with a tinge of innocence that makes nearly everything she says funnier: She's an innocent monster. And Glenna Kelly's cynical, hard manner as Gretchen barely masks the character's extreme loneliness and tenderness.
While the production is outstanding, the play itself is ultimately unsatisfying. Dietz is terrific with dialogue, but he doesn't seem to have enough to say: While Trust reflects the society, it doesn't reflect on it. A director as well as a playwright, Dietz also directs Home and Away, a terrific one-man show guaranteed to raise laughs--and your pulse. While not as serious or profound as Don Becker's Back on a Limb (now alternating with Trust on the Avenue Theatre stage), Kevin Kling's autobiographical playlet is fantastic, insightful fun.
Kling leaps energetically through the incidents of his life, recalling the anguish and terror of long stays in the hospital as a child because of his foreshortened arm, the bliss of fishing with his father, the loss of childhood as a result of his parents' divorce. As a grown-up, he moves imperceptibly toward the sorrows of consciousness. The last moment of the evening brings an exquisite poignancy, and the viewer leaves with a grasp of an interesting life, of a culture in permanent flux and of the confusions of mortality.
Trust, by Steven Dietz, Fridays and Saturdays in an open-ended run at the Avenue Theatre, 2119 East 17th Avenue, 321-5925.
Home and Away, through April 16 at the Frank Ricketson Theatre, Denver Center Theatre Company, 13th and Curtis, 893-4100.
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