Artists Repertory Theatre’s season opener, Trevor, requires a leap of faith–or two. First, we have to believe we want to see a play about a chimpanzee who has been raised as a human and treated like one throughout his life. And, we must trust for just a couple hours that the good people at Artists Rep know what they are doing in staging such a production to begin with.
Thankfully, Nick Jones’s play, Trevor, delivers.
Trevor’s “parents” are human couple, Sandra (Sarah Lucht) and her now-late husband Jerry. He was raised in their home, wears human clothing, and performed in television commercials and even a pilot TV series. As the play opens, Trevor’s television career is over. And Trevor has just stolen Sandra’s car keys and driven her car onto neighbor Ashley’s (Vonessa Martin) lawn. Ashley is understandably livid. Sandra, on the other hand, is in La-la Land. To her, Trevor is her child, a bad boy who means no harm.
Things can only get worse, but not in the ways we expect. Given Trevor’s rich inner dialog (which he shares with us even as human activities are moving forward), and fantasy appearances by an old chimp friend Oliver (Michael Mendelson) and actress Morgan Fairchild (Jana Lee Hamblin), the audience is almost lulled into believing Trevor is human.
Yet a palpable thread of tension runs through this play, even as we are laughing at the goings-on, as Trevor’s frustration with his situation grows. Sandra’s bond with Trevor, while on some level understandable, is rooted in denial. Trevor, while cute and adorable as a youngster, is not a child, but rather a full grown wild animal. Inherent in every good story is a problem, and Trevor has become a big one.
Nick Jones’s play is inspired by the story of Travis, a chimpanzee raised from infancy by a couple in Connecticut, and is a brilliant combination of satire and reality, at once taut, touching and absurd. At the heart of the play, however, are the very pressing issues of animal rights, the ownership of exotic wild animals as pets, and the burdens and consequences of dealing with these animals as they grow into adulthood.
John San Nicolas is a standout as Trevor. With the subtle direction of Artists Rep Artistic Director Damaso Rodriguez, he gives a tour de force performance, artfully delivering comedy with frustration as tension builds in the play. No less remarkable are Sarah Lucht as Sandra, and the amazing Michael Mendelson, who glides on and off stage as Oliver, delivering advice and great one-liners. And Scenic Designer Susan Gratch’s chain-link house set speaks multitudes.
Trevor runs through October 9 at Artists Repertory Theatre. It is the first of a season of seven plays that grapple with the themes of family and the pursuit of happiness.