Laurie Metcalf and Jimmi Simpson are a mother and son unlike any you’ve ever seen on stage, on screen, or in real life for that matter, in the West Coast Premiere of Nick Jones’ Trevor, the stellar duo delivering extraordinary performances in a play you’ll be telling friends, acquaintances, and maybe even complete strangers to put at the top of their must-see list.
To discuss Trevor in any way, shape, or form requires at least one major spoiler, so if you’d like to be taken entirely by surprise, refrain from reading on until after the show, but simply head on over to Atwater Village, that is if you can get tickets for what is already proving to be possibly the most popular 99-seat-plan production in town.
For those who don’t mind a spoiler or two despite a warning that at least one of them will be a real doozy, read on.
Sandra Morris (Metcalf) and eleven-year-old Trevor (Jimmi Simpson) might seem at first glance to be your average, everyday single mom and her rambunctious son, but only minutes into his play Jones has revealed the secret of the pair’s conspicuous habit of talking at rather than to each other, and of Trevor’s (how shall I put this?) rather simian-like way of carrying himself.
Trevor Morris is, it turns out, a chimpanzee (albeit played by a fully-clothed adult human), one that Sandra and her deceased husband adopted almost a dozen years ago, an ape-child who quickly grew into the son they never had, a widow’s sole comfort in life, and (for about fifteen minutes of fame) into Morgan Fairchild’s costar. (Yes, that Morgan Fairchild.)
Like anyone who has tasted stardom however briefly, even if that “stardom” meant sharing a thirty-second TV commercial with a Hollywood goddess before fading into has-been obscurity, Trevor dreams of a comeback, that is when he’s not swiping Sandra’s car keys for an audition at Dunkin Donuts, a joy ride that has the Morrises’ new neighbor Ashley (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) none too happy about the car now parked on her front lawn or the chimpanzee who drove it there.
Ashley is, you see, a new mother, and more than a bit ticked off about having an apparently out-of-control and possibly dangerous chimp residing next door, and though Sandra assures her neighbor that Trevor is no threat to anyone large or small, the actual menace to mother and son turns out to be Ashley, aided by local lawman Jim (Jim Ortlieb), whose daughter’s wedding was, Sandra insists, officiated by none other than Trevor himself. (Jim reminds Sandra that Trevor was only dressed as a minister that day.)
With stars the magnitude and talent of three-time Emmy winner (and L.A. stage treasure) Metcalf and TV star Simpson (most recently recurring on Netflix’ smash House Of Cards), superb lead performances are to be expected (and both Metcalf and Simpson deliver them in spades), but playwright Jones’ one-of-a-kind mother-son tale has its own unique fascination.
Yes, we’ve seen humans and animals converse before (remember Francis The Talking Mule, Mr. Ed, and Dr. Dolittle’s multi-species brood?), but Jones makes us ever aware that although Sandra and Trevor appear to be carrying on a conversation, neither understands exactly what the other is saying, give or take an occasional recognized phrase or hand gesture.
Flashbacks of Trevor’s TV taping allow us to hear Morgan Fairchild (understudy Jamie Morgan) and her PA (Malcolm Barrett) as Trevor does, mostly “blah blah blahs” with a familiar word perceived here or there.
In fact, it is only in fantasy sequences that Trevor hears and understands his beloved Morgan and, more significantly, Oliver (Bob Clendenin), an older chimpanzee whom the younger chimp sees as mentor and role model, Oliver having gone on to a degree of fame that Trevor now finds himself aspiring to achieve, if only he can make that illusive comeback.
With Metcalf burning up the stage in yet another colorfully multifaceted, outrageously funny, and ultimately deeply moving performance and Simpson absolute perfection in a role that is not only the physical workout of an peformer’s lifetime but the revelation of a supremely gifted comedic-dramatic actor, Trevor’s two leads could not be in more phenomenal hands, nor Sandra and Trevor’s utterly real mother-son bond be brought to more profoundly affecting life.
Stella Powell-Jones not only directs with assurance and panache, she has elicited one stunning performance after another from her supporting cast as well. Clendenin is droll perfection as the debonair Oliver, Ellis is heartbreakingly real as a mother who’ll do just as much as Sandra to protect her child, and Ortlieb is a deadpan delight as the well-meaning Jim. Morgan, stepping in for Brenda Strong, is as delicious and curvaceous a Morgan Fairchild as any Morgan Fairchild fan could wish for, and sensational recent Best Lead Actor Ovation Award winner Barrett reveals a softer, gentler side in a pair of major featured roles.
Scenic design whiz Stephanie Kerley Schwartz (currently represented on L.A. stages at both the Pasadena Playhouse and the Skylight Theatre) gives us Sandra’s middle-class suburban digs in all their lived-in clutter, with Trevor’s adjoining kennel reminding us that human-looking or not, this is one son whom neighbors might legitimately demand to have locked up at night.
Other design elements are equally world-class, from Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting to Elizabeth Cox’s costumes to Jeff Gardner’s sound to Bethany Tucker’s properties, with added snaps going to Best Fight Choreography Scenie winner Ned Mochel for his “violence design.”
Understudies Tasha Ames, Jeff Galfer, William Salyers, Kiff Scholl, Leslie Stevens, and Randolph Thompson are poised to step in whenever needed.
Trevor is produced by Circle X Theatre Co. artistic director Tim Wright. Jen Kays and Katherine Haan are associate producers. Joseph Patrick O’Malley is assistant director, Christina Schwinn is assistant lighting designer, and Soo Jin Jeong is assistant costume designer. Shaunessy Quinn is stage manager and Stuart Taylor is assistant stage manager.
With its cast of seven, each one understudied and all fourteen of them members of Actors’ Equity, Trevor is the kind of production that simply could not be staged in Los Angeles were it not for the 99-seat plan AEA now proposes to eliminate.
Trust me. You won’t see a more spectacular intimate stage production anywhere else in the United States than this uniquely Angelino masterpiece.
Circle X Theatre Company at Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave, Atwater Village.
March 26, 2015
Photos: Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging