BWW Review: TREVOR Monkeys Around at Catastrophic Theatre
TREVOR is easily the best show The Catastrophic Theatre has done this year, and that's saying quite a bit given the incredible strength of their season so far. It closes March 4th which gives you very little time to catch it if you are interested, but it is well worth the effort to see it before closing. The chance to catch Carolyn Johnson and Kyle Sturdivant play off each other as mom and monkey makes it an easy show to fall in love with. The narrative of the play is based on a famous case from 2009 when a chimpanzee named Travis attacked a woman resulting in her face being ripped off. The drama here is a very fictionalized version of the story, but it keeps key facts to make it recognizable. But there are so many twists, and the ending is completely different.
In this play by Nick Jones, TREVOR (Sturdivant) is a chimpanzee who when he was young did commercials and television spots. He was a simian co-star in an advertisement that starred Morgan Fairchild, and Trevor dreams of returning to his Hollywood life. The problem is he's older, not quite as cute, and living with a widower named Sandra (Johnson) who is finding it harder and harder to control him. The neighbors are nervous, and she's come under scrutiny of the local law who wants her to stop this unusual pet from driving cars and being aggressive to visitors.
The conceit is that Trevor can talk, but Sandra can't understand him nor can he grasp her language. All the ape really wants is to work and be adored again, and that is why he is acting up and out frequently. He has a rich fantasy life the audience is privy to where Morgan Fairchild (Elizabeth Marshall Black) and a famous monkey friend (Jeff Miller) console him as he tries to deal with his fading fame. In the end tragedy strikes, but it is not quite the same as it played out with Travis in real life circa 2009.
The acting is incredible in TREVOR, and central to the cast are Carolyn Johnson and Kyle Sturdivant who ably carry the weight of all this monkey business. We believe in their relationship, and Sturdivant is appropriately droll and fierce in equal doses. His body language is entirely simian, but his line delivery is PLANET OF THE APES if Noel Coward decided to adapt it. Trevor is funny, smart, and he makes sense. The actor gives an amazing mix of adorable and dangerous which makes TREVOR as strong as it can be. Carolyn Johnson sells the role of his adopted mother, and her face and line delivery is as effective as Sturdivant's. It is notable for how drained and low-key it is by contrast. She's plain, worn out, and heartbroken. They bounce off each other over the two acts wonderfully, and when their relationship hits the crisis point at the climax we feel for both. You're not going to see better acting anywhere in Houston right now.
The supporting cast is equally impressive, and they deliver palpable fear and funny around the core characters. Elizabeth Marshall Black has Morgan Fairchild down to an art, and she's hysterical as Trevor's vision of a star of great importance. Ronnie Blaine gets a very physical role as an animal control officer, and he's remarkable in executing his tense exchanges with Trevor. Charlie Scott and JeAnne Harris carry most of the concern and fear as the cop and the neighbor with a baby. Both do excellent work in the play's more somber moments. Jeff Miller is a riot playing Trevor's fantasy friend who is a monkey with a human wife and a huge career.
It's no surprise the director behind this sad and funny story is Tamarie Cooper. The whole production kind of suits her funny and quirky persona in real life and on stage. The busy set, imaginative lighting, and well executed sound design also contribute a lot here. Technically there is nothing to complain about, and TREVOR is a handsome piece of design and ingenuity from that respect. Tamarie has really hit a homerun guiding this one which is so far from her musical affairs.
My only gripe is the script sometimes let's scenes drag on for a beat too long. Nick Jones has done amazing work giving life to a relationship about a woman and animal not communicating, but the whole thing could be tighter when you think about it. Certainly the actors keep it all whirling at the right tempo, but there are notable moments when you feel the stretch of a playwright who needs small edits. This is felt the most in the closing scene of the show which provides a lengthy dose of closure that feels extraneous after a gut-wrenching climax. It's just too much of a come-down for this small of a payoff after all the fireworks have gone off.
TREVOR is what the Catastrophic Theatre does best, funny and provocative work that has much to say about the human condition. It's fascinating it takes a celebrity-obsessed chimpanzee to deliver the most human and touching of performances thanks to the combination of Kyle Sturdivant's acting prowess and a whipsmart script from Nick Jones. Carolyn Johnson also brings a healthy dose of humanity along with her portrayal of Sandra. TREVOR is provocative, funny, sad, and ultimately satisfying.
TREVOR is playing at the MATCH complex in Midtown Houston. Tickets can be obtained through the website www.catastrophictheatre,com . The show runs Thursday, Friday, and Saturday until March 4th.