BWW Review: What TREVOR the Chimpanzee Teaches Us About Being Human, at Artists Rep

BWW Review: What TREVOR the Chimpanzee Teaches Us About Being Human, at Artists Rep

It seems like every time a previously docile animal, like a pet dog or an animal at the zoo, does something unexpectedly awful (usually in the form of harming a person), we hear things like, "I don't know what happened. He's never been aggressive before." When it's a person who commits a terrible act of violence, we say they "just snapped." In any case, we generally have the idea that one day someone is fine and the next day they just lose it.

This is probably not how it happens most of the time. There are precipitating feelings and frustrations, and eventually there is a straw that breaks the camel's back.

These are the ideas that Nick Jones takes on in TREVOR, a play based on the story of Travis, a chimpanzee that became a household name in 2009 when he attacked a friend of his owner Sandra. Jones has taken this somewhat gruesome source material and turned it into a sharp, witty play about family, communication problems, and the consequences of compounding frustrations.

Trevor isn't just a chimpanzee living an unusual life as a pet, he's an animal with dreams and goals that, try as he might, he just can't see his way to achieving. As he starts to become aggressive, we view his actions with empathy -- not so much the actions of an unpredictable wild animal, but rather of someone who can't understand what's going on around him or why he isn't being given the opportunity to live up to his full potential.

Let's take a step back to look at the actual plot of the play. Trevor lives with his "mom," Sandra, in a rural town. He spends most of his time watching TV and playing on the computer. He eats at the table like a person and even sometimes drinks coffee and wine. He also occasionally takes the family car out for a joyride.

In his youth, Trevor was a TV star, meaning he once did a commercial (for water bottles, or maybe paper) with Morgan Fairchild. He desperately wants to return to Hollywood to pursue his dream of being an actor. As this dream slips farther and farther away, Trevor feels more and more frustrated over his thwarted ambitions. He's extra dissatisfied with his life when he compares it to that of his friend, Oliver, who -- at least according to the Internet (ahem, Facebook) -- is living the life Trevor wants. In other words, Trevor is pretty much like your average sufferer of "Millennial Malaise." But, there really isn't much Trevor can do to improve his lot, because, well, he's a chimpanzee.

Not really, of course. Trevor is played by a human being -- John San Nicolas -- which really hits home the fact that this play is about us just as much as it's about non-human animals. San Nicolas was an excellent pick for this role. I liked him here more than in any other role I've seen him play (except perhaps Jimmy Stewart in Second City's TWIST YOUR DICKENS -- that was pretty awesome). San Nicolas's Trevor is a sweet, innocent chimpanzee who doesn't understand the world he lives in.

Another highlight is Michael Mendelson, who plays Oliver, Trevor's friend who has "made it" (he has a human wife and wears a white tuxedo!). Honestly, it's just amusing to watch people play chimpanzees.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed TREVOR. It's both comical and heartfelt, and not really at all what I expected from reading the description. It will make you think and also feel a lot of feels. And that's why we go to the theatre, right?

TREVOR runs through October 9. More info and tickets here.

Photo credit: David Straub

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