Performing Arts

Trust this: Zoetic Stage’s new show deserves an ‘R’

cdolen@MiamiHerald.com

Nicholas Richberg and Gretchen Porro come up empty in their marriage in Zoetic Stage’s ‘Trust.’
Nicholas Richberg and Gretchen Porro come up empty in their marriage in Zoetic Stage’s ‘Trust.’ Justin Namon

Plays don’t get an advisory rating, as movies do. But if Paul Weitz’s darkly comic Trust were to be rated, it would get the same letter as the bondage-and-fantasy flick Fifty Shades of Grey: R all the way, baby.

It’s not that the latest offering from Miami’s Zoetic Stage contains nudity or genuinely kinky (as opposed to comic) sex scenes. It doesn’t. But Weitz’s script is verbally explicit and dotted with language as blue as one character’s mood. It features two guys with hair-trigger tempers, one menacing, the other less obviously so. And several scenes are set in a space where a dominatrix is paid to “punish” submissive men, a place full of chains, whips and oversized sex toys.

So, gentle reader, beware. You need to be as adventurous as the playwright and Zoetic if you decide to experience Trust, part of the Theater Up Close series in the Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

Zoetic, which leads all South Florida theater companies in nominations for the 39th annual Carbonell Awards, has another artfully acted production in Trust, staged by artistic director Stuart Meltzer. Whether it floats your particular boat may depend on how Weitz’s deeper themes — including connection, control, the masks we wear and the search for meaning in life — resonate amid all that R-rated flotsam and jetsam.

Weitz, a filmmaker-screenwriter whose credits include the wildly different American Pie and About a Boy, offers up the tale of Harry Schneider (Nicholas Richberg), a dot-com multimillionaire whose life has hollowed out, despite his vast wealth. He administers his foundation but otherwise has little to do. His wife Aleeza (Gretchen Porro) is a now-depressed painter who hasn’t picked up a brush in ages. Their sex life is pitiful. What to do?

The playwright sends Harry into the not-so-loving arms of Mistress Carol, a leather-clad dominatrix who sports a wig, thigh-high boots and an attitude. As it happens, Harry recognizes the whip cracker as Prudence Teller (Niki Fridh), a gal he knew back in the day. Prudence has her own issues, the main one being Morton (Alex Alvarez), her articulate, sketchy and sometimes violent live-in boyfriend.

The precise plot twists, and there are many, should be experienced in the moment by those who opt to see Trust. The play, which premiered Off-Broadway in 2010, is a bit schizophrenic, sometimes wildly funny, at other times dark and disturbing.

Zoetic regular Richberg, who’s up for a pair of best actor Carbonells, crafts another multifaceted character in the way he portrays Harry. Obviously opting for cool, amiable control in the way he presents himself to the world, Richberg’s Harry nonetheless often seems to be trembling inside, a mixture of excitement and fury at war within.

Making her Zoetic debut, Fridh is as comfortable and natural as Richberg onstage. The guilty secrets of Prudence’s formative years have made her into a woman who wants more but feels she’s undeserving, and Fridh communicates that complexity in countless ways.

Alvarez, another Carbonell nominee, towers over Fridh, and that visual alone helps the handsome actor seem menacing. He is as good as any performer in South Florida at blending comedy and volatility, and he comes through powerfully in Trust. Porro, another Zoetic first-timer, is more broadly comic, playing Aleeza as a manic-depressive perpetually on the verge of tears until she finds her calling in life.

Set designer Elayne Bryan has created a multi-level playing area, with the moneyed chic of Harry and Aleeza’s apartment and the simpler (yet still tasteful) digs occupied by Prudence and Morton framing Mistress Carol’s dominant-submissive playground. Marcelo Ferreira’s lighting and Meltzer’s thematically create a mini light-and-sound show during the multiple scene changes in the intermission-free play.

Written before Fifty Shades became a worldwide “literary” phenomenon, Trust has more to say (and says it better) than its kinkier cousin. That said, the script has passages that are as calculating and flawed as its restless main character.

If you go

What: ‘Trust’ by Paul Weitz.

Where: Zoetic Stage production in the Carnival Studio Theater at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami.

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday, through March 29.

Cost: $45.

Information: 305-949-6722 or www.arshtcenter.org.

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