In a red room, chains dangle from the ceiling, whips stand ready for use and a naïve, young man awaits a dominatrix. This scene is not from the trendy “Fifty Shades of Grey” series, but from the domineering production of “Trust,” Zoetic Stage’s latest show, which will run through March 29 at the Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center.
The show follows Harry (Nicholas Richberg), a shy nerd turned internet billionaire after he sells his website for a fortune. The sudden wealth provides Harry with everything he could ever ask for: a lavish apartment, a studio for his artist wife Aleeza (Gretchen Porro,) a nonprofit organization and more money than he knows what to do with.
However, with nothing left to strive for, he feels dissatisfied with his life and goes seeking excitement at an S&M club. He meets a dominatrix whom he knows as Prudence (Niki Fridh) from high school. Prudence enjoys her work in BDSM, but must deal with an unhealthy relationship with Morton (Alex Alvarez.)
When Harry asks Prudence out for coffee, he begins a complex chain of events. From there, the show’s four characters grapple with their relationships and identities as they explore power, love and control.
Written by Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and director Paul Weitz, the show is sexy, fun and dark. Weitz’s film credits include “About a Boy,” “In Good Company,” “Little Fockers,” and the “American Pie” movies.
Throw misconceptions out the window because in “Trust,” no character is who they first seem to be and the show goes much deeper than sex and domination. It takes audiences on a trip beyond the sexual drive into the psyche of these characters and is rife with emotional conflicts.
The play is an intricate dance, where scene partners are swapped to create interesting vignettes between Morton and Aleeza, Prudence and Aleeza, and Morton and Harry.
The plot comes full circle with everyone’s stories intertwining in parallel situations. The matchups between the characters are a constant power struggle with dynamic dialogue that questions concepts like power, control and the influence of the past.
As expected there are several sexual scenes. However, the show is sprinkled with humor and those potentially uncomfortable scenes are diluted with comedy.
The characters all evolve throughout the course of a show, something that should be obvious and fundamental, but is so rarely executed this well.
As Harry, Richberg deftly navigated the desire, turmoil, control and aspirations of his multifaceted character. Just when the audience believes they have a sense of Harry, Richberg peels away another layer into his personality. His suave portrayal is engaging and captivating.
Fridh was commanding in her role as a dominatrix, imbuing power onto the stage. She also captured the vulnerabilities, internal struggle and haunting past of Prudence’s personal life in a genuine way.
As Morton, Alvarez had a challenge in making his character more than a schoolyard bully. Throughout the show, his macho bravado realistically faded to reveal the inner securities that made him into the man he is.
Aleeza initially seemed a weak, flighty character with underlying mental health issues. Her development was more dramatic, but less nuanced.
The energy of the play was bogged down by the lengthy set changes, which still felt too long even with the transition music and light displays. The accompanying music served almost like a soundtrack laced with upbeat, sexy music that reinforced the theme of each scene.
The set was cleverly designed with multiple levels dividing the space into more than five different onstage locations. Elayne Bryan did an excellent job utilizing the intimate black box Carnival Studio Theater that brought the audience into these four character’s world.
The set was decorated to mimic the energy of each location – the walls of Morton and Prudence’s home looked like prison bars and the splintered wood in the bedroom was as shattered as Harry and Aleeza’s relationship. With rich, red hues and smart lighting cues, “Trust” dressed up the simple black box area into a set as intricate as its characters.
Although it seems like “Trust” is about sex and the realm of BDSM, audiences will be surprised once they are lured into the fun and sultry world of domination to find that it is far more mental than physical.
The complex characters in “Trust” go beyond black and white, stereotypical portrayals, and show that when it comes to human emotions, there are far more than fifty shades of grey.
IF YOU GO
When: Through March 29
Where: Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center
For ticket information, visit arshtcenter.org.