Review: Trust at Fells Point Corner Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

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Running Time: 1 hours and 50 minutes with one 15-minute intermission

The 90s was a hell of a decade and I would do it all over again, if I could! Amidst the Gulf War, Rodney King Riots, and presidential sex-scandals, there were some pretty cool times, as well, such as The Berlin Wall coming down, the ending of the Cold War with the U.S.S.R. and… the World Wide Web! Fells Point Corner Theatre‘s production of Trust by Steven Dietz, Directed by Michael Byrne Zemarel, with Music Direction by Kristen Cooley, Set Design by Bush Greenbeck, and Lighting Design by Chris Allen takes the audience back to a bygone era where relationships and sex were just “a thing,” Chris Hardwick was hosting Singled Out on MTV and not talking about zombies, and Nirvana dominated the airwaves.

The Cast of Trust. Credit: Chris Hartlove

The Cast of Trust. Credit: Chris Hartlove

In a nutshell, Trust is steamy, raw tale about Cody and Becca, a young engaged couple, and Cody has recently hit it big in the music industry and has graced the cover of the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine. However, Cody also has the hots for an older faded and jaded star, Leah, who may or may not have a thing for him, too. Gretchen knew Leah back before she was big and had the hots for her, but never told her. Low and behold, Gretchen, who happens to be a dressmaker, is making Becca’s wedding dress may or may not have the hots for Becca and Becca might possibly have similar feelings in return. Enter the young Holly, another outspoken friend of Gretchen’s who adores Cody, the rising star, while Roy, a DJ, has his motor running for Holly. Welcome to love in the 90s.

Bush Greenbeck’s minimal, clean set design works well with this piece and his clever use of a revolving stage takes the audience seamlessly from one location to another and adds a bit of variety to the piece, which, in authentic 90s fashion, is quite black. To counter this dark tone, Greenbeck adds splashes of color and prints to break up the monotony and it keeps the set visually appealing.

To complement Greenbeck’s design, Lighting Design by Chris Allen sets the mood of the piece very nicely. He uses the levels in his lighting to portray locations such as living rooms, bars, and hotel rooms and his subtle changes and splashes of color are effective and moving the piece along smoothly.

Michael Byrne Zemarel, Laura Malkus, and David Shoemaker. Credit: Chris Hartlove

Michael Byrne Zemarel, Laura Malkus, and David Shoemaker. Credit: Chris Hartlove

According to Music Director Kristen Cooley, Trust is written as a straight play with no music, but it was the decision of Director Michael Byrne Zemarel to add this element, making it a play with music and it was indeed a creatively wise choice. The music that was added beautifully complimented the action in the piece and Cooley lucked out with actors who are instrumentalists as well, including Mark Scharf, who is credited only as The Musician. I’m assuming Scharf’s character was added in, as well, and he does an excellent job providing accompaniment with his acoustic guitar throughout the piece. I like the fact that the song choices aren’t just the top hits of the decade but some B-side songs were utilized as well, which is refreshing. Overall, Cooley’s song choices (in collaboration with Zemeral, I’m sure) are smart and befitting and her work with the cast shines through in their tight harmonies and strong vocal performances.

Michael Byrne Zemarel takes on double duty as a performer and director in this piece. On his directing, he does a superb job with this piece. As previously discussed, his decision to add the element of music is brilliant. It adds so much value to this piece and the decision of using live, acoustic guitar accompaniment makes it all the better. He was not afraid to push the boundaries in this piece that’s not only filled with relationship drama but also has a touch of simulated sex and nudity that may or may not be for shock value. Whether or not the sex stuff is or is not for shock value, it works and pulls the piece together.   His portrayal of Roy is realistic and, through is mannerisms, he really captures the essence of a man longing or love in the grunge age.

Rachel Roth as Gretchen. Credit: Chris Hartlove

Rachel Roth as Gretchen. Credit: Chris Hartlove

Overall, this ensemble worked superbly together with excellent chemistry. It is obvious they are comfortable with each other as they play off each other naturally and with confidence.

Casey Dutt portrayal of Holly, the sharp tongued, opinionated young friend is strong and entertaining. She portrays well a character who simply says what’s on her mind and doesn’t mean any harm, but does, in fact, cross the line sometimes.

David Shoemaker as Cody. Credit: Chris Hartlove

David Shoemaker as Cody. Credit: Chris Hartlove

David Shoemaker tackles the role of Cody, the rising star, trying to navigate through the newfound fame and all that goes with it. He definitely looked the part of a young rock star with the wispy hair and chiseled physique (and what a physique it is). He gives a confident performance and absolutely understands the humility of his character and aside from some of the decisions this character takes, he is quite likable. He is an outstanding musician both on his guitar and vocally with a soothing bass that resonates throughout the theatre. That being said, I would have like a little more enthusiasm whereas Shoemaker plays this role rather subtly to the point where it was almost hard to understand what he was saying or doing. However, a lot of the 90s was chill so, he would have probably fit right in.

Laura Malkus as Leah. Credit: Chris Hartlove

Laura Malkus as Leah. Credit: Chris Hartlove

Gretchen and Leah played by Rachel Roth and Laura Malkus, respectively, are definite highlights in this production. Roth plays her character, Gretchen, with just the right amount of angst and bitterness balanced out with a tenderness from the pain her character has experienced. In a character that seems to be cut from the same cloth, Malkus plays the jaded Leah with the skepticism that perfectly matches a fading star who was probably promised the world and given very little. It’s worth noting that Malkus gives an impressive, strong vocal performance with a clear, even-textured tone that made me take notice from the very first note.

Valerie Dowdle as Becca. Credit: Chris Hartlove

Valerie Dowdle as Becca. Credit: Chris Hartlove

Among her gifted cast mates, Valerie Dowdle as Becca is the standout in this piece. Her portrayal of her character is absolutely authentic and enthralling and she gives strong, confident performance. She fully embodies this character, making it her own. Dowdle understands Becca and the turmoil she is experiencing and balances this character beautifully with levels of intensity and reserve that keep Becca interesting for the audience. Kudos to Dowdle for a superb job and I’m very much looking forward to seeing more from this actress.

Final thought…Trust at Fells Point Corner Theatre is a fearless, unabashed, and gritty look at love and lost love in the 90s as well as the intertwining passions and all the male and female assumptions that go along with it. Adding the heartfelt, guitar driven music of the decade, this production looks past the flannel, choker necklaces, Doc Martins, and everything “grunge” to the human outlook on the difficulties of not only being in a relationship, but holding on to one, which is a timeless story and relevant to today’s audiences. Though the attire is correct and the music fits, being a kid/teen of the 90s, it might not have as much of a nostalgic feel as I would like, it still represents the decade nicely. This relevant, intelligent, and in-your-face production with all its twists and turns, chance meetings, and 90s nostalgic music will have you enthralled every step of the way and should be high on your list of things to see in Baltimore theatre this season.

This is what I thought of Fells Point Corner Theatre’s production of Trust… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

Trust will play through March 19 at Fells Point Corner Theatre, 251 South Ann Street, Baltimore, MD. For more information, go to fpct.org or purchase tickets online.

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