Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Trevor—Artists Repertory Theatre—SW Portland

To Soothe the Savage Beast
This play is written by Nick Jones and directed by Dámasco Rodriguez (Artists Rep.’s Artistic Director).  It is playing at their space, SW Alder St. & 16th Ave., through October 9th.  For more information, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278 for more information.

It is alluded to by some scientists that, at one time, millions of years ago, we were once Beasts of the forests (and/or fish of the sea), thus, our origins.  Animals in the Wild seem to conform to a set pattern of behavior, but without a certain reasoning power and free will, which Man has.  But, indeed, if we have come from the Wild and are thrust into another environment, can we be expected to act other than our original Nature?  It is said, you can take the Beast out of the Wild but not the Wild out of the Beast.  In this play, that is exactly the dilemma, possibly for both species.

When I first arrived to review the show, since there was a picture of a lovable little chimp on the front page of the program, I was wondering how the devil they got a live animal to behave onstage through a whole show.  It also seemed that kids might love this show, too, with such a cute, Disney-like creature in it.  My bad.  I was totally wrong about both.  Trevor, the adult chimp, is enacted by an actor, John San Nicolas, and it is based on a true story which has a very tragic end for all concerned.  So, bottom line, this is not for the kiddies!

Trevor (John San Nicolas), an 11-year old chimp, had been adopted as a baby by Jerome and Sandra Morris (Sarah Lucht).  Jerome has since passed away so it is now up to Sandra to raised the young animal, which she does but as a child, letting him have free roaming of the house and yard, teaching sign language to him as a form of communication, allowing him to drive, letting him be a “media darling,” being in films, even, in his mind, forming an unhealthy attachment to one of his co-stars, Morgan Fairchild (Jana Lee Hamblin).  And, as a baby, this was considered “cute” behavior by the community.

But we also see Trevor’s side of the story as he interacts with these hairless beasts.  If you’ve seen the stage version of The Elephant Man, a real person with a horribly deformed body, the actor portrays him with a flawless body, letting us see the inner person.  So it is with this character.  San Nicolas goes through the physical motions of a chimp but speaks to us of the thoughts he’s having as these humans attempt some sort of verbal and non-verbal communication with him and each other.

There is the cop on the beat, Jim (Jason Glick), who tries to be sympathetic as he’s known this family for years.  There is the new neighbor, Ashley (Vonessa Martin), with a newborn, who wants to be tolerant but is uneasy with a wild animal running loose in the neighborhood.  There is Jerry (Joseph Gibson), with Animal Control, who feels he understands wild animals and their needs which, in his opinion, is to be with other creatures of his kind.  And, of course, there is lonely Sandra (Lucht) who, with all good intentions, perhaps, is trying to domesticate Trevor and treat him as if he were human.

But Trevor really does have his own thoughts and dreams.  He imagines a relationship with Fairchild, in which they are an “item” as the Media would say.  He imagines himself a big film star with offers just pouring in that want him in their movies and commercials.  And, best of all, he has a mentor in Oliver (Michael Mendelson), an older chimp who was a film star and now is imparting his wisdom upon Trevor, the most important lesson being, learn to behave as they expect you to, “soothe the savage beast” within.  Quell the fire inside and learn to accept your fate.  But that’s not Trevor…!

I have avoided telling you too much of the specifics of the story as you really must witness it for yourself to get the full drift.  As mentioned, the story does not turn out well for most of the characters involved.  But the real story is even more tragic.

It is well known that chimps and other animals have had a life on the big screen, such as Cheeta in the Tarzan movies, Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, Trigger, Morris, et. al.  But it is not known feelings and thoughts they may have had during those transformative years.  This play, in part, may give you some insight into these areas.  It may not be a pretty sight but it is, I believe, an honest one.
The most amazing part of this show is how Jones has managed to capture the possible inner workings of an animal’s mind and translated them into human words.  And I quite willingly accept his voice on the matter.  And San Nicolas is a marvelous instrument of these inner demons and dreams the character has.  Lucht also is a tragic figure who is so wrapped up in Trevor’s world she tends to forget where she comes from.  Is she trying to transform him or is he trying to transform her?!  And Mendelson, as Trevor’s guru, is quite a treat, as Oliver himself is not fully committed to either world but does know the basic truth, to survive you must behave.

Rodriguez has done an outstanding job of allowing the humor to build through the first act, disarming the audience, and then lets things explode in the second act.  He has been careful not to let his two chimp actors overlap too far into the animals’ world but just gives us enough of a suggestion and lets the lines/actors create the rest.  “Less is more” and it works here.

I recommend this play but, be warned, it is not, as mentioned, a “family” show.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.