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Photograph: Michael BrosilowBrandon St Claire Saunders, Larry Grimm and Mierka Girten in Trevor at A Red Orchid Theatre

Trevor at A Red Orchid Theatre: Theater review

A woman resists any suggestion that perhaps she shouldn't keep her beloved companion, an unpredictable 200-pound chimpanzee, in Nick Jones's dark comedy.

Trevor apes the set-up of many successful television shows, with a serious but absurd premise that fills the audience with constant laughter while maintaining a dark edge that can deliver powerful blows. It’s a hybrid that’s both drama and comedy, where tension continues to build even during the most inappropriately hilarious moments. This is no surprise, as playwright Nick Jones is also a writer on the Netflix series Orange is the New Black, which may give you an idea of Trevor's ability to straddle tones.

At the center of the play is the small, dysfunctional household of Sandy and Trevor. She’s a young widow who barely speaks of her recently deceased husband, and he’s the 200-pound performing chimpanzee the couple raised together. When he was younger and cuter, Trevor performed in commercials, TV shows and live events. Now well into adolescence, the work has dried up and the neighborhood is growing wary of the full-grown primate who's allowed to roam the house and occasionally drive the Corvette.

We can understand Trevor while the humans around him cannot, and his ongoing one-sided conversation with the audience and the other characters is the brilliance this show is built around. As played by Larry Grimm, Trevor is variously a has-been diva, a company man, a teenager striving to assert himself and an unemployed bum. Somehow a middle-aged actor bounding around in overalls evokes so many different aspects of “being a man” and the search for self-respect that it entails.

Though well conceived, Trevor could turn into a surreal disaster in the wrong hands. But A Red Orchid's cast and crew sell an unnatural premise with ease. Shade Murray's production lets the text speak for itself, as uncomfortably amusing as a bus full of nuns careening off a cliff.

This is a comedy with a very, very long shadow. The story of Trevor is also the quietly disturbing story of Sandy (Mierka Girten), trying to preserve her world despite the recent death of her husband. It’s the story of an ape who is losing control of himself. It’s the very violent reality of a wild animal. But a chimpanzee uttering platitudes on show business to himself, bemoaning his career and struggling with fecal flinging in a feather boa is just so damn funny. Or maybe it’s the most enjoyable brooding drama ever written, because Trevor is built on a disturbing truth: We’re laughing at the monkey, not with him—and he’s starting to realize it.
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