About the author:
Sutton Foster became the stuff of Broadway legend when Thoroughly Modern Millie rocketed her from ensemble member to Tony-winning star, but it was her pitch perfect follow-through in Little Women, The Drowsy Chaperone, Young Frankenstein and Shrek that cemented the leading lady as one of the stage's most beloved musical theater "it" girls. Now, for the first time in her spotlit career, Foster is tackling a non-musical role in playwright Paul Weitz's tough-as-nails dark comedy Trust, currently playing at Second Stage. Starring Zach Braff as a rich husband led astray and featuring Bobby Cannavale and Ari Graynor, the new piece sideswipes audiences with a side of Sutton you've never seen before. We checked in with Foster in the days leading up to the play's August 12 opening to get some feedback about her "dark adventure" out of that musical theater comfort zone and into the power-hungry (and ultimately empowering) world of Trust.
I put out into the world recently that I would love to do a contemporary play.
I think I can say I’ve focused more on musical theater over the years because that’s simply where I felt more confident. But lately I have had the desire to take on a character who doesn’t burst into song. (I’ve also done so many jobs lately that were Medieval or set in period costume that I not-so-secretly developed a longing to play a part where I wore jeans and used my own hair.) Then Trust came out of nowhere.
My first reaction when reading the play was to double check the part the Second Stage team asked me to look at. I don’t want to give too much of the show away, but in the very first scene Prudence makes an entrance...the kind of entrance that made me immediately call my agent and say, “Wait, which part do they want me to read?!”
Once I got past that (and yes, they did want me to read for Prudence), I had to finish the script because I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. The play’s incredibly smart, extremely witty and very dark, and the character of Prudence unlike any I’ve ever played before. I called my agent back as soon as I finished and said, “Send me in for this. This could be incredible.”
I feel lucky Trust wanted me, too. To begin, the whole experience so far has been a perfect reminder that whether you’re in a musical or play doesn’t really matter; the goal, which is to tell a story and tell it well, is exactly the same. And it’s nice to do a show where I wake up in the morning and don’t have to check my voice, and I can go out with friends and not have to have a bedtime that makes it possible to sing the next day. I’m grateful in every way for the opportunities I’ve had musically, but I do occasionally feel like I’ve lived like a nun for the last eight years! I’m thankful for the chance to work with a more selfish balance of personal and professional.
Beyond the obvious lessons in plays versus musicals, however, is what taking on this character has done for me personally. Most of the roles I’ve played in the past have been all sunshine and light. This play, which is about control, power, relationships and dominance, is anything but—and Prudence lives in the middle of all of it. Diving into her world has been fascinating...and intimidating. I admit that for the first couple of days of rehearsal I’d come home going, “Oh god. What did I get myself into?” But I went to Peter DuBois, our director, early on and said, “I know I can do this.” And he said, “I know you can too.” Now, after a few pep talks and lots of hard work, I think we both were right. That discovery has turned out to be incredibly empowering.
In a strange way, Trust has made me a stronger person. I walk down the street more confidently. I hold myself with more strength and power. It’s not about sex or sexuality—it’s all about control. I actually feel more empowered as a woman. And I feel very empowered as an actress.
Of course, I can’t shake the musical thing entirely. Turns out [co-stars] Zach, Bobby and Ari are big musical theater fans and are always trying to make me sing backstage. (I believe they think of me as their token musical theater girl.) But I’ve put my foot down and said, “I am an act-or, not your musical theater go-to!” See? Empowerment in action.
In case it isn’t clear yet, I’ve loved my dark adventure with Trust in every way. I hope people will see my part in it and view it as a welcome departure from what they’re familiar with, because I’d like to keep reaching farther as a performer. And I hope they understand that Sutton Foster knows how to crack a whip...and isn’t afraid to do so.