BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
The sight of hitherto squeaky-clean musical comedy star Sutton Foster dressed in scary dominatrix gear and looking like she means it is practically worth the price of admission to "Trust."
But there's even more to enjoy in Paul Weitz's thoughtful comedy that premiered Thursday at Second Stage Theatre.
Fresh out of "Scrubs," Jersey son Zac Braff portrays Harry, an otherwise boring guy who sold out his dot-com for $302 million. This recent windfall has reduced the wonkish Harry to feeling nothing about anything. His wife Aleeza (Ari Graynor) suffers from a similar malaise and their marriage has gone flat.
"On a whim," Harry ventures into an S&M parlor where he encounters Foster's character, Prudence, who turns out to be someone he admired back in high school.
Their recognition scene opens the two-act play and proves to be a very funny reunion as bullwhip-snapping gives way to fond memories: "You had that neck brace sophomore year."
The storyline darkens when Prudence's thuggish boyfriend Morton (Bobby Cannavale) tries to blackmail Harry. After the seemingly meek little millionaire blindsides Morton with a (literally) blazing gambit — no spoilers from me — viewers realize that Harry is really not so guileless. Nor is Morton such a creep.
When Harry declares his love for Prudence, she's experienced enough in the ways of control, manipulation and trust to be somewhat mistrustful. Meanwhile bored Aleeza meets hunky Morton.
How everything works out semi-happily might not totally satisfy audiences. Certain developments are dubious or seem insufficiently motivated. Harry's rather blank character needs deeper writing from Weitz or at least a far more shaded depiction than Braff's wimpy nice guy. If the play is imperfect, the laughs are frequent and Peter DuBois stages it smoothly with sleek Manhattan sets by Alexander Dodge.
The actors are fun to watch. He may be underplaying Harry to a fault, but Braff offers pleasant enough company. Cannavale exudes his typical mix of menace and sexiness. Graynor's numb, blonde Aleeza amusingly suggests a sedated pussycat, so little wonder she later wakes up with a vengeance.
Making a rare appearance as a "legitimate" actress — "Won't Mother be pleased," as Noel Coward once wired Gertrude Lawrence — musical comedy sweetie Foster firmly portrays Prudence as a smart woman with a complicated past that makes her cool and cautious. Finding the humor in a dour character like Prudence is not easy but Foster brings nice comic judgment and much warmth to the role. She also looks great in those nasty dominatrix duds and may well find herself with an entirely new fan base.
"Trust" continues through Sept. 12 at Second Stage Theatre, 305 W. 43rd St., New York. Call (212) 246-4422 or visit www.2st.com.
ALSO BY MICHAEL SOMMERS