Review: “Trevor” at New Haven Theater Company

Review: “Trevor” at New Haven Theater Company

Noah Golden

OnStage Connecticut Critic

On first glance, Trevor is your typical disgruntled, out of work actor. He lays around on his shabby, old couch and eats frozen dinners. He reminiscences about the time he appeared on television (alongside Morgan Fairchild, no less), endlessly peppers his speech with Hollywood jargon and can’t stop thinking about Oliver, a fellow actor who made it big. Most of all, he waits not-to-patiently for his next gig. But Trevor isn’t like your average wannabe star for one big reason: he’s a 200-pound chimp.

Don’t worry. In Nick Jones’ witty and thought-provoking comedy, produced by the New Haven Theater Company, the title character isn’t portrayed by a real primate or a man in a furry ape costume. To the world, Trevor may look and sound like a giant chimp, but to the audience he comes across as the kind of 30-something man-child you’d find in a Judd Apatow movie. When we first meet Trevor, he’s dressed in a graphic tee and grumbling about a botched audition. It’s not until his caretaker Sandra returns home and starts chastising him for taking the car out that you realize they are two different species speaking very different languages. Sure, the concept is comical but it also sets up the theme of miscommunication which lies at the very core of Jones’ play. From chimp to human, human to human and even chimp to chimp, no one in “Trevor” is any good at getting their point across, sometimes to devastating results.

But that’s not really Trevor’s fault. He’s a monkey, for God sakes. When he was little and newly adopted by Sandra and her now-deceased husband, Trevor was a superstar in his small suburban town. He’d get dressed up to go to parties, perform a juggling act on rollerblades and grew so popular they even put his photo on the local tourist brochure. Sensing Trevor’s star power, Sandra got him booked in an insurance commercial (with that aforementioned “Dallas” bombshell) and a televised showcase for talented animals. But cuteness fades for young chimp actors as quickly as it does for their human counterpart and, now at 11 years of age, Trevor is huge, cranky and craving the spotlight. It doesn’t help matters that Sandra’s devotion to him boarders on delusional or that the new mother living next door is threatening to call the cops.

There’s not a lot of plot in Jones’ 80-minutes one-act, preferring instead to delve into the lives of Sandra and Trevor. It’s a testament to Jones’ writing that, despite a few missteps, the script is concise, clever and surprisingly tense. Since the play clearly takes inspiration from another monkey named Trevor, the real chimpanzee who horrifically mauled Charla Nash in nearby North Stamford, there’s an underlying current of suspense that adds a dash of spice to what could be a typical comedy. “Trevor’s” use of an anthropomorphized animal does bring to mind A.R. Gurney’s delightful “Sylvia,” but while both plays explore similar themes “Trevor” is an altogether edgier and more ambitious work. Thematically, it’s closer to Netflix’s surreal meditation on the corrosive nature of fame “BoJack Horseman.”

Nick Jones takes a lot of successful risks in terms of narrative, but it’s not to say his script doesn’t have a few moments of, well, monkey business. Trevor’s antics (and daydreams) occasionally go on for a touch too long, especially since they’re often more amusing than laugh out loud funny. Yes, there are many chuckles to be had at “Trevor,” but the humor leans a bit too heavily on sitcom-style jokes that don’t always land. An unneeded epilogue also softens the show’s brazen finale.

What makes “Trevor” sing, even when the material was uneven, is the strong cast. Sandra Rodriguez brings a warmth and desperation to Trevor’s human mom, the most emotionally complex role in the show. From playing silly games with Trevor to moments of manic desperation, Rodriguez is always believable and grounded. Melissa Smith, Erich Greene and Chaz Carmon give sympathetic and solid performances as Sandra’s neighborhood, a cop and an animal control officer while Susan Kulp and Trevor Williams ham it up as facets of Trevor’s imagination. Williams, who plays the chimp star Oliver as a preening mix of “Zoolander’s” Hansel and an obnoxious talk show guest, is particularly hilarious and gives “Trevor” a huge shot of energy whenever he’s on stage. Holding it all together is Peter Chenot as the title chimp. While I wish his movements were a touch more ape-like – which would have played up the human/animal dichotomy to even more hilarious results –  Chenot delivered a charismatic, entertaining and layered performance, no easy feat for such a multifaceted character.

“Trevor” is my first time seeing a show by the New Haven Theater Company and I walked out feeling the buzz one might associate with a surprisingly prosperous blind date. Here is a small, quirky company that operates out of a small, quirky space (in this case, an oddly-shaped black box in the back room of a downtown consignment shop). In the true spirit of community theater, they play up their strengths by picking a simple show and staging it with talented artists onstage and off (Drew Gray provides the show’s seamless direction). In a landscape that often sticks to classics like “12 Angry Men” or well-worn musicals, I applaud the New Haven Theater Company for picking an ambitious, off-the-beaten-path play that may not draw in huge audiences but will surely delight the ones who do. It’s a play about the allure of stardom, the difficulties of communication and how, as Tim Minchin once put it in song, deep down we’re all “just fucking monkeys in shoes.” Although, if you ask Nick Jones, he might add a pair of rollerblades. 

“Trevor” is playing through March 4 in New Haven, CT. For more information, visit NewHavenTheaterCompany.com. 

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