Dutiful Drama | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Dutiful Drama 

Trust, David Schwimmer's stage play about online predators, is more case study than compelling story.

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Trust Lookingglass Theatre Company

Among modern-day bugbears, few can scare the bejesus out of us like online predators—the anonymous, sweaty-palmed pedophiles we imagine lurking in chat rooms and on every social networking site, trolling tirelessly for fresh meat. Never mind that studies have shown again and again that most sex crimes involving children are committed by someone the victim knows, like a relative or a family friend. In fact, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, it's "people known to children and their families" who pose the greater threat. But that doesn't seem to alleviate our fear of the electronic equivalent of strangers with candy.

Exaggerated or not, panic over this particular brand of stranger danger testifies to a deep uneasiness with the way we've allowed technology to saturate every waking moment of our lives. Kids in particular seem perpetually plugged in to some communication device or other, a habit that encourages in them a potentially hazardous combination of worldliness and naivete. Consequently, their parents are liable to feel torn between awe and dread at the wonders of the age. Lookingglass's new show captures some of that ambivalence: Trust is a cautionary tale about technology that oozes fascination with technology.

David Schwimmer and Andy Bellin adapted the script from a screenplay by Bellin and Rob Festinger. According to the program, Schwimmer has shot the film and is finishing it up now; he codirects this stage version with Heidi Stillman. The play bears telltale signs of its cinematic origins: a lot of 30-second scenes, multiple location changes, banal dialogue modeled on everyday speech. But worse than that, it bears signs of having been based on a pamphlet about Internet safety and a manual from a rape crisis center. Its admonitory tale of a 14-year-old girl who falls prey to an online creep, and of the encounter's shattering effect on her and her family, lacks the kind of specificity that distinguishes a compelling drama from a case study.

That said, Trust manages to evoke a crucial aspect of how we live now. The suburban family at the center of the play is inundated by media at all times. Computers, cell phones, televisions, iPods, and video-game consoles are nearly always on. The way the family's three kids—Peter, who's about to leave for college, high-school freshman Annie, and ten-year-old Katie—divide their time among screens reminded me of an Onion headline from last summer: "Report: 90% of Waking Hours Spent Staring at Glowing Rectangles."

Fittingly, Dan Ostling's minimalist set is dominated by a gigantic rectangle made up of white screens onto which the characters' texts, IMs, e-mails, cell-phone videos, cams, browses, and various other communications are projected (the multimedia design is by Bridges Media). It's all a little exhausting and verges on overkill, but of course that's the point. Though parents Lynn and Will (Amy Carle and Philip Smith) actively involve themselves in their kids' lives, make rules, and set parameters, they can't possibly stay on top of the torrent of data flooding their home. For starters, they're quite a bit less tech-savvy than the youngsters. "Instant messages, Dad," says Katie, her voice dripping with condescension, when Will refers to "instant e-mails." Schwimmer and Stillman strike a nice balance between kids-these-days head shaking and an obvious delight in the wonders of technology, and the first part of the play hums with a kind of hectic brio.

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