Trust Credit: Sean Williams

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.

Soon, however, the central action of the plot arrives to apply the brakes. Annie (Allison Torem, a gifted actress who’s not much older than her character) has struck up a long-distance phone and IM relationship with a chat-room regular she believes to be a 16-year-old boy. Guess what? He’s actually a 35-year-old predator (Raymond Fox, whose trustworthy face and air of decency make him all the more chilling). Annie agrees to meet him at the mall, and she’s angry to discover that he lied about his age. But he manages to persuade her that he’s still the same person she fell for in their chats. They wind up at a motel, where they enact a scene whose ick quotient is through the roof. Studies assure us that online predators rarely succeed, but Annie has been carefully “groomed”—the process whereby a pedophile slowly gains his victim’s trust and prepares her for abuse by introducing one boundary-crossing activity after another. Compliments lead to dirty talk, which leads to sharing lewd pictures and so on.

When news of the crime gets out, thanks to Annie’s concerned best friend, therapy and investigation take over entirely. With the help of a counselor Annie works through her rage, depression, and the fantasy that her attacker actually cared about her. Her father, meanwhile, is tortured by a thirst for revenge and what he accounts as his own failure to protect his child. Fed up with the slow pace of the FBI’s investigation, he spends day and night poring over Web sites that track sex offenders and eventually even poses as a young girl online in an effort to entrap his quarry. This gives the play a surprising symmetry: the kids’ happy texting and tweeting giving way to their father’s fevered, obsessive sleuthing.

But Trust‘s insights into our technology-soaked society don’t land as effectively as they might because, as written, Will and Annie are thin characters who rarely stray from a narrow, if understandable and probably typical, set of emotions—anger, sadness, and regret.

In the program, Schwimmer says he consulted with law enforcement officials, people who treat rape victims, and some of the victims themselves in order to “faithfully convey . . . the experience of a parent when their child is victimized” and “the many conflicting emotions and complicated psychology that a child experiences both in grooming and recovery.” This is admirable. But in conveying the experience of “a parent” and “a child,” the script erases the uniqueness of this parent and this child. We end up relating to them as representatives rather than individuals. What’s missing are the telling details, contradictions, and frequently maddening idiosyncrasies that bring a character to life and let us experience the full monstrousness of the crimes they suffer.   v

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