Part comedy, part fantasy, part magical realism, “inspired by true events,” and ending in tragedy, Nick Jones’s Trevor is loopy and shaggy and outrageous and pretty great even though it ends badly for our two favorite characters. It also provides a master class in comic acting from the performers who play those characters.
“Dying is easy; comedy is hard” is a saying first attributed to Edmund Kean in 1833, but it still makes the rounds today, and for good reason: playing comedy ain’t easy, and some otherwise wonderful actors bring to mind the old insult, “a joke in his mouth is no laughing matter.”
Not here, though. Laurie Metcalf knows comedy is rooted in truth, and the biggest laughs are to be gained by being utterly real, deadly serious, and totally committed to the character’s beliefs, no matter how idiotic they might be. Watching her at work as Sandra Morris, the caretaker mommy to a giant chimpanzee she regards – and treats – as her child, is enthralling. Ms Metcalf plays Sandra as if her life depends on it, and the result is hilarious and touching in equal measure.
Matching her every step of the way is Jimmi Simpson, playing Trevor the chimp. No, he doesn’t wear a monkey suit, or an ape mask – he looks like a perfectly normal human, albeit in suspenders and a tie. But his slightly spacey delivery, and perfectly calibrated simian walk, quickly make us accept him as Trevor, who as a cute baby chimp had a brief show business career which included starring in a commercial with Morgan Fairchild.
But that was then, and this is now. Trevor isn’t cute anymore and is no longer a baby: he’s big, he’s passed puberty, and that’s when chimps can become aggressive and problematic. Here, the problem is complicated by the fact that – in his monkey mind – Trevor still thinks of himself as a show-biz phenomenon. He misses the bright lights of Hollywood, and wants to get back to work. Which is why, when the show opens, we find him returning home from what he claims was a trip to Dunkin’ Donuts, made by driving mommy’s car.
That car is now sitting on the lawn of the people next door, and Ashley, the young mother who lives there and is afraid for her newborn, confronts Sandra to demand her “animal” be controlled. But to Sandra, Trevor’s not an animal, and herein lies both the comedy and the eventual tragedy of the play. For Trevor is, at heart, a love story, but one which, by its nature, can’t end well. As Sandra’s efforts to control Trevor become more frantic, the laughs increase, until Trevor snaps in an explosion of violence all the more startling because we’ve grown to like the characters and assume – hope? – everything will somehow work out.
Nick Jones’s writing is sharp and focused, and Stella Powell-Jones has directed shrewdly, using the space well and drawing fine performances from her actors. In addition to Ms Metcalf and Mr. Simpson, the excellent cast includes Malcolm Barrett, Bob Clenendin, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Jim Ortlieb, and Brenda Strong as Morgan Fairchild.
The detailed suburban-house set by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz is exemplary, as are the lighting design by Jeremy Pivnick, the costume design by Elizabeth Cox, the sound design by Jeff Gardner, and the props design by Bethany Tucker.
Not everything is perfect. On opening night, a number of lines were lost as the cast seemed unprepared for the size and length of the laughs they were getting from the audience; a few performances, though, should have gotten everyone into the right rhythm.
The scene where Trevor and Morgan Fairchild meet on a Hollywood set calls to mind the famous Gary Larson cartoon in which one panel (“What We Say to Dogs”) shows a man articulately chewing out his dog for getting into the garbage, whereas in the next panel (“What They Hear”) the man’s words appear to the dog as simply “Blah blah blah Ginger…” In the scene in Trevor, the humans’ words are “Chai chai chai Trevor, Chai chai chai, good boy!” It’s terribly funny, but that’s the only time it happens, and afterward I found myself thinking, “How come only those humans talked like that…?”
I’ve never seen a program listing for “Violence Designer” but Ned Mochel is given the credit here, and deserves it: Trevor’s out-of-control spree, leading to the shocking denouement, is well-staged, and the resulting final tableau is shattering.
But wait: alas, it isn’t the final tableau, as the playwright has tacked on an unnecessary and anticlimactic final scene, meant to wrap things up and make sure we know what we’ve just seen; it’s a major letdown after the emotional devastation of what should have ended the play.
In this unfortunate scene, two of the supporting characters lament all that went before, making sure we remember Trevor was remarkable, and more than just an animal – he drove four miles before he wrecked the car! And in case we didn’t get it, one of the characters says of Trevor, “He didn’t just fool us; he fooled himself.”
It’s a good line, but too “on point,” and tries to tie everything up neatly with a bow. Trevor himself was kinda messy, though – and sometimes it’s best to leave things that way.
Written by Nick Jones
Directed by Stella Powell-Jones
Through April 19
Circle X Theatre Co.
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039