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In the Moment: ‘Trevor’ at 1st Stage

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Under the crafty direction of Alex Levy, 1st Stage’s production of Trevor, penned by Nick Jones, had me in agreement with a recent American Theatre headline calling Jones the “Deadpan Puppet Master of Human Folly.”

Doug Wilder (Trevor). Photo by Teresa Castracane.

1st Stage’s Trevor is having its DC area premiere. If you think you don’t know playwright Jones, well, you may already know him from his scripts for television’s Orange is the New Black. Jones based his Trevor upon a horrible real-life event I suspect many will recall; the mauling of a woman by a chimpanzee. A NY Times article on the event is here.

Jones has taken the actual event as an impetus to delve deeply and entertainingly into human folly in its own way not unlike Edward Albee’s The Goat, Or Who is Sylvia.

The play Trevor is also a very complicated affair about a moral dilemma, at least the way I took it in at its press opening in Tysons (Fairfax, VA).

Here is my DCMTA colleague William Powell’s review.

I am taking the opportunity William Powell’s review gave me to write about Trevor’s “mental meat” – a phrase Powell winningly used in his review.

I take Trevor as more than a fun night out with a well-performed entertaining satire. For me, Trevor was truly a cagey tale about the definition of family, the nature of love, and how flawed communication can lead to disaster well beyond an immediate family.

As I left 1st stage for my drive home, Trevor left me much to ponder. Trevor gave me the opportunity to examine my reactions to one family’s misunderstandings as a much larger moral dilemma for the larger universe. (I am probably impacted by my many years working in my social services career).

In Jones’ Trevor, the two central characters in the family at issue do not speak the same language. Then again, the family depicted in Trevor consists of two individuals – a middle-age, lonely widow named Sandra (a spot-on  Leigh Jameson) who is depicted as having a cold unhappy marriage while her husband was alive. Sandra lives with a 200 pound former celebrity chimpanzee named Trevor (a wonderful performance by Doug Wilder), based on his ability to amuse and enthrall human audiences with his “human” qualities.

(l to r) Doug Wilder, Leigh Jameson, and Jacob Yeh. Photo by Teresa Castracane.

Now here, I pick my words carefully. Is Sandra the owner of Trevor the chimp? Is Trevor the chimp merely her pet? Is he more like a companion? Does she treat Trevor more like an undisciplined “son”? After all Sandra is at times identified as a “mommy-figure” for Trevor the chimp.

And through a rabbit-hole my mind wondered about whose needs were being met in this very special family. Who was being nurtured in Nick Jones’ concocted world of human and animal intersection: Sandra? Trevor? And what of a nearby neighbor and new mother’s need for a sense of safety for her baby? Was Sandra just being selfish just to meet her own needs? Phew.

Finally in a number of scenes Trevor the chimp is given the opportunity to interact with “others,” not just miscommunicate with Sandra. These are those who understand him and communicate with him like his fellow chimp named Oliver, and his memory of working with Morgan Fairchild.

Are they just silly add-ins meant for laughs, or did these scenes give real consciousness to Trevor the chimp? I know what I think. I leave you to decide after you see the show.

Well, I will go no further so I don’t ruin your own experience at 1st Stage. I do hope you will go see Trevor, then leave a comment in the comment box – under this article – and tell me what you think about the show and my meanderings in this column.

And to Alex Levy and 1st Stage, one request: more DC area premieres like Trevor.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.

Trevor plays through February 26, 2017, at 1st Stage – 1524 Spring Hill Road, Tysons, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 854-1856, or purchase them online. 

Note: A technical aspect of Trevor’ that beguiled me was the sound design by Sarah O’Halloran which was mood-setting from my first hearing the pre-show music with melancholy banjo tunes from Abigail Washburn and Bela Fleck. Titles included “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and “What’s You Gonna Do.”

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