By Stanford Friedman

There are several ways for a man to deal with a childhood trauma. He might seek out psychotherapy. He could delve into meditation. Or, if he is Kenneth, the central character in Eboni Booth’s hope- and laugh-filled new comedy,Primary Trust, he might indulge in two-for-one mai tais with an imaginary friend during happy hour at Wally’s, “New York’s oldest tiki hut,” which he considers to be, “some version of home.” In a compassionate and slyly funny performance, William Jackson Harper’s Kenneth is damaged, but not beyond repair, and honest, except when he is fooling himself.

Set in a suburb of Rochester, the play tracks a pivotal year or so in the 38-year-old’s life. It begins with a nod to Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, as Kenneth provides the lay of the land, “We have our own post office, a church, two banks, and a wine shop….” Soon enough, we are also getting to know his interior landscape as he alludes to the unexpected death of his mother that left him an orphan and triggered his trauma. He also introduces us to Bert (Eric Berryman), the best friend and drinking buddy that only he can see.

Well, the audience can see Bert too, obviously. It’s one of many bits of artifice that the playwright expertly utilizes to draw laughs or generate empathy. There are numerous instances of speaking directly to the audience. Live music underscores key moments. Actors assume multiple roles. And a visit to Wally’s is a humorous blur of one day pouring into the next, with the ding of a bell marking quick jumps in time. Though, as it becomes clear that those two-for-one mai tais are all being consumed by Kenneth alone, the line between comic and worrisome grows very thin.

Bert is there for Kenneth during some essential turning points. These include him losing his long-time job at a bookstore and landing a new job at a bank. But he becomes noticeably more absent as Kenneth succeeds in his new career, sharpens his social skills and makes a real-life friend in Corrina (April Mathis), a kind-hearted Wally’s waitress. “Before, I never really clocked the changing of the days,” he realizes. He edges toward bright normalcy even while being tugged back into darkness by his emotional injury. This internal battle, not quite a stalemate, leaves us rooting for him as the curtain comes down on a future that seems to be trending upward.

Under the light touch of director Knud Adams, the supporting cast all turn in solid performances. Fans of Jay O. Sanders’s work in Richard Nelson’s Gabriel and Apple family plays will be amused to find that he is once again in an upstate New York setting, and will be intrigued by the switch from the naturalism of Nelson to the broader comedy he serves up in three roles here. As Sam, the bookstore owner, he is craggy and infirm. As Clay, the bank manager, he is in mourning for his glory days as a college quarterback. And he is pure parody as a stuffy waiter in a fancy French restaurant.

Berryman’s straight-forward approach to Bert is a winning formula for dealing with that character’s paradox: When he makes a decision to support Kenneth, or to abandon him, it is actually Kenneth, of course, who is making that decision for him. Mathis, meanwhile, is endearing as Corrina, and a riot in brief portrayals of numerous other waiters as well as a parade of bank customers. Luke Wygodny soothes with his work on piano and strings. And scenic designer Marsha Ginsberg takes the literal approach to a small town setting, with buildings scaled down to miniature proportions.

Primary Trust – By Eboni Booth, directed by Knud Adams.

WITH: Eric Berryman (Bert), William Jackson Harper (Kenneth), April Mathis (Wally’s Waiter & others), Jay O. Sanders (Clay & others)  and Luke Wygodny (musician).

Marsha Ginsberg (Sets), Qween Jean (Costumes), Isabella Byrd (Lighting) and Mikaal Sulaiman (Sound). Roundabout Theatre Company at the Laura Pels Theater in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111 W. 46th St. Through Saturday, July 2. Running time: 95 minutes