(This review is by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Andrew J. Friedenthal.)
Nick Jones’ Trevor is a black comedy about fame, pride, loneliness, and family, which also just happens to feature a chimpanzee living in a suburban home with a human “mother.”
Based on the true, tragic story of Travis the chimp – who was gunned down by police after becoming aggressive and horrifically mauling a woman’s face – Trevor explores what it means for an animal to live among humans in the modern day, while at the same time trading on the classic trope of blurring the line between what separates man from animal.
Capital T Theatre’s production of Trevor (playing through June 18 at Hyde Park Theatre) plays up the comedic elements of the text, but not without sacrificing the desperate humanity that lies at the heart of the lead characters, Trevor the chimp and his owner/”mother” Sandra.
Desperation and miscommunication are both classic fodder for comedic moments, but when the two combine with the specter of loss alongside animalistic fury (on the part of both Trevor and Sandra) we see an inevitable recipe for tragedy.
Jason Newman gives a tour-de-force performance as the titular chimp, looming over the stage as a physically threatening presence who nevertheless remains emotionally raw and pitiable. The physical demands of the role are extreme – embodying a chimpanzee for two hours while almost never leaving the stage – but it is in the emotional nuances of the character that Newman truly impresses. Trevor is not just a chimp, with the physicality and extremity of a Stanley Kowalski, but he is also in many ways the most human character in the play, whose fears of being washed up and past his prime show the vulnerability of a Willy Loman.
Director and scenic designer Mark Pickell’s elaborately detailed set, recreating a messy suburban house (with a passing resemblance to the living room from Roseanne), enunciates Trevor’s plight by casting everything in a slightly compact scale that Newman bestrides.
Pickell allows the audience to viscerally see how Trevor’s physical presence is ultimately too big for this small house, and the life that comes with it.
In her fierce devotion to Trevor, no matter what he seems to do, Rebecca Robinson as Sandra shows emotional extremity to match the chimp’s, ultimately proving to be both as frightening and out of place in modern society as Trevor, himself. This alienation is offset by Trevor’s fantasies of his chimp “friend” Oliver, played with hilarious urbanity and subtle physicality by Judd Farris, and by his longing for his former co-star, Morgan Fairchild, portrayed with sexy comic precision by Rebecca Pearcy.
With its darkly hilarious exploration of humanity, loss, and a desperate need for connection, Trevor is another impressive Capital T Theatre production that entertains and engages on multiple levels.
“Trevor” continues through June 18. capitalt.org