When attending Trevor, it probably doesn’t hurt to know that instances of chimpanzees driving cars are not unusual. That they can speak sign language, and their sentience has been well established. Trevor is a new show by Nick Jones, a comedy intertwined with pathos. Inspired by true events, we are launched into the predicament of Sandy and Trevor, a sweet, responsible woman and her animal companion. Sandy’s husband Jerome purchased Trevor on a whim, when he was still a baby, never anticipating the outcome. By the time Jerome passes away, Trevor has become part of the family, thinking of Sandy and he as his parents. Events have created a deep attachment between Trevor and Sandy. They love each other dearly. From the outset we learn that Trevor has been borrowing the car, an idea that is hilarious, charming and terrifying at the same time.
There is an unfortunate quaintness to the anthropomorphism we impose on animals. Actual animals that get lost between attention they get for performing and not understanding it doesn’t come from genuine warmth. Sandy doesn’t do this of course, she respects and cares for Trevor, but he aches for the validation he got from his acting career. We know this because we can understand everything Trevor says. Even though he and Sandy can only communicate somewhat through ASL. This device serves Nick Jones well, as it illustrates the discrepancy between how Trevor (the chimp) thinks, and how he is perceived. How pervasive the inclination of monkeys and humans to confer personal context upon the behavior of others. When Trevor feels slighted because humans disrespect his virility, talent, eagerness to please, it quickly becomes apparent how universal suffering is among mammals. In his cunning Jones guides us to and through the intersection of palpable love between Trevor and Sandy. And the crushing sadness that it will only take them so far. We can’t blame Sandy for refusing to abandon Trevor, but we can sense the inevitable heartbreak ahead.
Trevor never lacks for strange, amusing invention. Under the direction of Tina Parker, Max Hartman (Trevor) adapts casual ape-like behavior to his performance, sticking feet in the air, grooming, swinging arms in a way that never feels like shtick or grotesque mockery. Jones inserts Oliver, Trevor’s friend and colleague in show business. Oliver is another chimp whose convivial, suave erudition stands in contrast to Trevor’s childlike shenanigans. Oliver appears to Trevor repeatedly, helping him navigate assimilation. Morgan Fairchild is Trevor’s celebrity friend (they shot a commercial together) and her glamorous sex appeal stokes his engine. Trevor daydreams about her, hoping she can get him back to Hollywood.
Beyond the dubious wisdom of living with wild animals (no matter how charismatic) Trevor considers subjugation and unconscious inclination to assume we have the answers for those less “evolved”. At the same time it’s great fun to see Trevor wearing sunglasses or playing guitar, it’s sad to think Sandy doesn’t really understand the impact on his psyche. When he attempts to save a neglected baby, his motives are unclear and havoc erupts. There’s a kind of poetry at work when he says, “All my life I’ve been holding cups with nothing in them.” Trevor has been living too much for the sake of getting love, instead of fulfilling his own need for joy. Trevor could have easily been only a cautionary tale on the hazards of confusing cooperation with empathy, but Nick Jones and Kitchen Dog take it so much further.
Kitchen Dog Theater presents Trevor, playing May 4th-14th, 2017. AT&T Performing Arts Center: Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. 214-953-1055. 2400 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201. kitchendogtheater.org