Stars today. So easygoing, so easy to please. Take the four inhabiting Oscar-nominee Paul Weitz's new play at Second Stage Theatre, Trust. They broke from rehearsal the other day to break bread together in the Second Stage Theatre green room down the hall, enjoying bread from the Lenny's a block away, freshly fetched by a fleet-footed stage manager.
"We've been working on our cast bonding," Zach Braff lightly explains as he tears into his assembly-line sandwich. "This kind of togetherness is good for our bonding."
Braff has the central role in — or, at least, is the catalyst of — this dangerously dark and edgy comedy, which director Peter DuBois is gingerly negotiating them through.
Braff is Harry, happily married, comfortably well-off — and thoroughly distrustful of his good fortune, so much so he ventures into the chancy world of sadomasochism, encountering a couple (a dominatrix named Prudence and her sinister mister) who irrevocably alter their lives and Braff's marriage. There is police tape over the plot at this point. What follows is a minefield of spoiler alerts, so the tightly bonded cast proceeds cautiously as one, careful not to tip the surprises and laughs ahead. Advance word (albeit, from the publicist) is that this is a super-simpatico quartet.
"So far," says Sutton Foster, responding to this always-fair-weather report with a playful intonation that implies an ellipsis. "It's only the beginning of the week."
Ari Graynor is in giggling agreement with her. "My God, it's very early!" she seconds.
Seemingly lost in thought, the fourth member of the foursome stirs finally: "You have the central role?" Bobby Cannavale asks Braff in mock amazement, with just a tinge of competitive-actor indignation — to see if Braff will back down. He does: "I don't know about the central role, but...," he says, going into his apologetic dance.
Braff is the new kid on the block, theatre-wise. He does, however, have quite an impressive resume on the big and small screen. He has earned both Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his antics as Dr. John "J.D." Dorian on TV's "Scrubs." His only previous stage appearances were as Shakespearean characters: "In college I was Rosencrantz in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and in New York I was in Twelfth Night and 'the Scottish play' by George C. Wolfe. I don't mean 'by.' Shakespeare wrote them. George directed them. I got my Equity card from George."
"I know how happy he would be if you said they were by him," Cannavale cracks.
Graynor steps in to explain herself. She plays the vulnerable wife that Braff drags into this melee. "I'm a painter who has developed a kind of painter's block," she proffers, "and since I identify myself completely with my work, I feel that I'm without a real identity."
Cannavale carefully advances his two-cents' worth. "It's a tricky thing to talk about this play," he concedes. "I'm constantly thinking in my head, 'No, I can't say that. I don't want to give that away.' Really, here is a guy who walks into an S&M parlor thinking he's looking for something, not sure what it is, and this sets off sort of a chain reaction with all of the characters. Sutton and I have a relationship, and, because of this meeting with Zach, our dynamic at home starts to change. The dominant dynamic in these two relationships is power." Impure and simple.
All four characters have the same Achilles' heel, Foster contends. "The focus for all of them is what they're missing in their lives. All of the characters — all of us — are on precipices, and, when we meet each other, we start tumbling like dominoes.
"I work as a dominatrix," she blurts out at last. Like you hadn't already figured that out through a simple process of elimination (or, for that matter, from looking at the show's ad, in which she is giving Braff's tie quite an aggressive and authoritative tug).
"I know, I know," Foster postscripts, beating you to the punch line, "Sutton Foster is the first person that they think of when they come across a dominatrix in a script." Well, Millie was never this thoroughly modern — and that was why she wanted to give it a shot. "I actually auditioned to get this part. My agent called and said he wanted to send over a script to read. It's a terrific script, but halfway through, I called him and asked, 'What part am I going out for?'"
Braff believes the play could comfortably carry a PG-rating warning. "It's risqué, not necessarily for the Shrek and Little Women set. Sutton's young fans maybe shouldn't see this one. Those under 16 should be accompanied by an adult."
"It has a lot of sex and violence," Cannavale adds enthusiastically, mincing no words.
"And no stunt doubles, either," Foster quips. "We do all our own stunts."
By the end of the interview, three out of four platters are picked clean.
"Sutton hasn't eaten," Braff observes, checking out Foster's substantial leftovers.
"I ate. I ate half," Foster shoots back, gesturing to her untouched portion. "It was humongo! The biggest damned sandwich I ever got!"
Ah, stars today. Such a manageable lot.