Critic's Choice

When the spotlight moves on, from a different perspective

Review: 'Trevor' Atwater Village Theatre explores communication in an original, well-acted way

“Sandra, I’m home. No go on the Dunkin’ Donuts job.” Thus the title character of “Trevor,” presented by Circle X Theatre Co., grabs our attention in a 200-pound death grip.

Even in a burgeoning spring season already packed with excellence in every direction, Nick Jones’ ineluctable 2013 tragicomedy about the infinite dichotomies of communication, parenthood, show biz and human/simian interface leaps to the top.

As Trevor (the amazing Jimmi Simpson) analyzes his television work from the couch on Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s superb scenic design, the aforementioned Sandra Morris (ever-axiomatic Laurie Metcalf) bursts in, maternally bemoaning Trevor’s excursion in her car.

At that point, Trevor, apparently just a typical self-involved actor, leaves the couch with an loping, splay-footed gait and the jig is up. Because Trevor is a chimpanzee, previously a cute animal celebrity, now nearly grown, who cannot forget he once worked with Morgan Fairchild (Brenda Strong).

It unnerves Trevor that neighbor Ashley (Mary Elizabeth Ellis), new to the suburbs after having a baby, is irate over his parking Mommy’s car on her front lawn. Desperately chipper Sandra tries to assuage both parties.

Soon the local sheriff (Jim Ortlieb) has been called in, and the situation must be addressed. One difficulty is Trevor’s determination to regain the limelight, the other Sandra’s deep-seated refusal to consider a wildlife sanctuary.

Directed with invisible ambidexterity by Stella Powell-Jones, this fable, inspired by actual occurrences, is structurally ingenious, animal and human perspectives interweaving in ways that swerve from hilarious to heartbreaking to house-stilling.

The expert design scheme finds Jeremy Pivnick’s fantastic lighting, Jeff Gardner’s multi-focused sound, Elizabeth Cox’s lived-in wardrobe and Ned Mochel’s “violence design” sustaining the impending unease beneath the witty insight.

Ultimately, Jones’ brilliantly subversive premise lands due to an ace cast. Strong, Ellis and Ortlieb embody their roles with finesse, as do Malcolm Barrett, whose double casting is just one of Jones’ clever textual notions, and Bob Clendenin, his tuxedo-clad past colleague embracing the off-kilter tone.

And Simpson, whose fearless physicality and nuanced specificity announces a major talent, and Metcalf, her genius at realizing simultaneous multiple emotions never more acute, are beyond praise, right up to the riveting climax.

Original, unexpected and indelible, “Trevor” explores the existential obstacles to true communication in ways that everyone in this industry town would do well to contemplate. As such, it’s a sensational West Coast premiere.

“Trevor,” Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Ave., L.A. 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends April 19. $28. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

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