In an excellent production, MAP Theatre’s ‘Trevor’ tells a true, sad story with a lot of humor, insight, and intrigue. It runs through March 30. Running alongside it (thru 3/25) is Jasmine Joshua’s ‘Bread Crumbs,’ a nonbinary solo show that’s solidly worth a visit.
There are some things that are so unthinkable, they make us either turn away in horror or need to learn more, and more, and more, and more. For me, this particular story would probably fall into the former camp. But for playwright Nick Jones, the story of a mauling chimp apparently hooked him and wouldn’t let go.
The result is Trevor, Jones’s funny and affecting play and MAP Theatre’s latest production, currently running at 18th & Union. MAP does a beautiful job with it, highlighting the comedy, sadness and frustration of it all (and there are a lot of each). Running 100 minutes with intermission, the play moves just that fast — my favorite kind — but also makes for a much more robust, thoughtful night of theatre that sticks with you awhile.
The real story behind Trevor was in Stamford, Connecticut (a well-heeled suburb of New York), in which an adolescent chimp named Travis — who had become something of a famous figure in the area and lived in a private residence — viciously mauled a woman.
Jones’s play takes a slightly different route. It begins with a similar premise: an adolescent chimp named Trevor, played by a human, lives with a widow who is effectively his mom and who uses Trevor to fill the void of any other meaningful relationships in her life. Trevor, meanwhile, fancies himself a Hollywood star, who has taken particular shine to actress Morgan Fairchild, with whom he appeared in a two-bit commercial for tax prep (or, as he saw it, water bottles or maybe paper or something). The story unfolds somewhat non-linearly, as we get the Trevor version sometimes and the human version at others, and they often diverge. All has become clear by the end.
And while veering off into fantasy on some major aspects — well-chosen ones, I think — Jones really dug into the details of the real narrative. Like Trevor, the real chimp apparently did drink wine out of stemware, and his mom did give him tea to calm him down. (The real one, however, was laced with Xanax, which should have been a pretty big red flag for her and everyone else.) Those kinds of tidbits and more give the whole thing a stranger-than-fiction sort of feel. And that level of detail provides an eerie glimpse into the circus tent that’s unraveling inside the home.
It is Trevor and Sandra’s home life — along with Trevor’s solitary trains of thought, which become more estranged from the humans’ communication as time passes — that form the substance of the play. Whether it’s textual or in MAP’s clever staging, the play continually asks who’s caging whom. Sandra rarely leaves the house. Indeed, about the only time we see her interacting with humans is when they come over to warn her to keep the animal under control. She assures them that will be no problem. Trevor, meanwhile, is rarely in his actual cage (which is visible throughout the play); instead, he has turned Sandra’s whole house into one.
What’s striking about Sandra (played wonderfully by Teri J. Lazzara) is that she really seems to believe the tales she’s spinning even as, increasingly, the evidence is stacked against her. Indeed, from the very top of the play, we meet Sandra and Trevor (played by Brandon Ryan) as she’s letting him in the front door after he’s driven her Corvette up onto the neighbors’ lawn. And it sounds like it’s not the first time. At first, it’s comical. By the end, we get the feeling she’s in way over her head.
Trevor has undeniably become Sandra’s life, and she thinks she is his, too. Increasingly though, this isn’t the case. Trevor is pulled around by a celebrity chimp who takes over his imagination, which contributes to his rising dissatisfaction with his suburban housepet lifestyle. He’s becoming more agitated, obsessed with getting back into the spotlight, and overtaken with visions of grandeur. Sandra, perhaps not knowing what else to do or choosing the path of least resistance, encourages those fantasies.
Ultimately, the fantasy overtakes him. He’s discontent. Sandra just wants things the way they used to be, even as the rest of us can surmise that’s never going to happen. It has a lot of signs of an abusive relationship, and you have to wonder at what point Sandra will ever break the thing off.
With ‘Trevor,’ MAP risks pigeonholing itself as a company that produces plays with humans as marauding wild animals. But it’s a difficult type to pull off, and if MAP is this good at it — and they’re really, really good — maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Lazzara’s Sandra is believable, and caring, and lonely, and desperate, and all the mess of stifled emotions she needs to be. Her responses are so understated to the increasingly unhinged animal taking over her house (and the neighborhood), it’s easy to both love her for the selfless devotion she’s giving this animal, and hate the utter neglect she’s given to her own life — and the safety of the neighborhood and the real needs of the wild animal — in the process. Because she’s a character who’s acted on, rather than driving the action, it’s easy to underappreciate Lazzara’s performance. That would be a mistake.
Other characters are peripheral, but well played. Zenaida Rose Smith plays a concerned neighbor woman and a very funny Morgan Fairchild. Michael D. Blum makes the most of a minor role as a cop. Danielle Daggerty plays the never-popular animal control officer, and Jesse Calixto plays Oliver, the celebrity chimp. They all work great together.
But it’s Brandon Ryan who unquestionably leads this cast, in the title role. His Trevor was lifelike, clearly a chimp, but was rarely stereotypical. He’s kind of a selfish jerk. He’s a lot detached from reality. He makes messes everywhere. He’s argumentative. He acts out. He’s impatient. But he’s, more than anything, a chimp, and that’s why his character rarely becomes unlikable. While a human character acting this way would get intolerable fast, Trevor is just being Trevor, doing the things a Trevor would — which makes it all the more mind-boggling why Sandra thought she could keep living with him penned up in the house as she did. Or rather, penned up as they both were.
This show marks a reunion of Ryan with director Julie Beckman, who has a way of bringing out troubled personalities, dark scenes, and character quirks. Her direction here of Trevor demonstrates all of that and then some. Her previous collaboration with Ryan (in Downstairs by Theresa Rebeck, a co-production between Theatre22 and ACT Theatre through ACTLab) featured Ryan as a human caged in a different way — downstairs in his sister’s house, in which both of them were trapped with her controlling/abusive husband. Both of them did wonderfully there; here, it’s less dark but just as powerful.
Well-composed design elements — including functional and appealing set by Robin Macartney and props by Jessamyn Bateman-Iino, fun sound by Mario Gomez, spot-on costuming by Corinne Magin, and light design by Levi Plumb — all round out a terrific production.
With Trevor, MAP risks pigeonholing itself as a company that produces plays with humans as marauding wild animals. (Its previous show, Year of the Rooster by Olivia Dufault, featured Shane Regan as an impossibly good fighting rooster.) But it’s a difficult type to pull off, and if MAP is this good at it — and they’re really, really good — maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
And in its commitment to financially inclusive theatre, MAP makes all tickets available on a name-your-own-price model (in advance and at the door), with no added ticketing fees. There’s free parking and ample bus service. The show runs this weekend and next. You should go.
MAP’s off-night brings the immensely talented storyteller Jasmine Joshua’s solo work in progress, Bread Crumbs, to the stage on Monday and Tuesday (3/25-26). Bread Crumbs is a very personal work about tracing the path to coming out as a nonbinary person, in two worlds that love to be gendered: parenthood and acting. It’s very well told and performed. You should see that, too.
[UPDATE: Unfortunately, the 3/26 showing of Bread Crumbs was cancelled. So now it closes on 3/25.]
Trevor runs through 3/30 at 18th & Union in the Central District. Tickets are all on a pay-what-you-can basis, available here. Accessibility notes: restroom is gender-neutral, single-stall; theatre can be made wheelchair accessible with a ramp, but the restroom is not — please contact venue ahead of time to ensure smooth access.
Bread Crumbs runs through 3/25 at the same location. Tickets are all on a pay-what-you-can basis, available here.
Chase D. Anderson is Editor & Producer of NWTheatre.org.