Trevor has dinner with mom and Morgan Fairchild

Trevor has dinner with mom and Morgan Fairchild

We are caring creatures, you and I. We want to share, and we want to know, and we love to think that the object of our affections shares, and knows, and loves us right back. Horror movies and psychological thrillers are based on the fear that others don’t share our caring, or worse, they actively mislead us, pretending to care in order to take advantage. As a Scottish king once said, “there’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face.” Actors must be well aware of this phenomenon, actors, who are one step away from sociopathy anyway. Their job is to pretend to be someone who cares, someone you can empathize with. A good actor can make even a surly antihero or outright villain charismatic and appealing.

In Trevor, a new play by Nick Jones and directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, the title character, Trevor, is an actor. At the moment he’s an out-of-work actor, who is desperately trying to get his career back on the rails, but like many strivers in this, most difficult of professions, he can’t  seem to catch a break. Of course, it’s harder for him than others, because he’s a chimpanzee. But what is acting, if not method? All he has to do is act like a human, hone his craft, sharpen his skills, practice, practice, practice, and he’ll get there. His talent is so obvious that he just knows it is only a matter of time before he’s on his way back to Hollywood.

In addition to his species issues, he has a familiar professional problem: his mother, played with sharp intensity by Colleen Werthmann, is also his manager. She hasn’t been a complete slouch: she got him a pilot with Morgan Fairchild. But he hasn’t worked in a while, and honestly, the boredom and inactivity is making him a little crazy. Moreover, Sandra’s effectiveness as a manager — and a mother — has been impaired recently by personal problems. A new neighbor (Amy Staats), a young woman named Ashley who has a new baby, gets very upset when Trevor takes Sandra’s car to Dunkin’ Donuts to apply for a job. Ashley insists Trevor must spend every unsupervised minute in a cage. But since Sandra lost her husband, she needs Trevor to step up and be a man.

Nothing is more entertaining than children and animals acting like adult human beings. They’re so darn cute and lifelike but totally powerless and dependent. Steven Boyer, who plays Trevor, gives a heart wrenching and accurate performance that emphasizes the similarity between human adolescence and a socialized chimpanzee’s yearning to become a real human being. Trevor, based on the life and death of Travis, the chimp in Stamford Connecticut who, in 2009, mauled Charla Nash, asks us to empathize with, or at least understand the overpowering emotions that bind humans to animals. It does so by turning the real Travis into a Pinocchio type character, a creature brought into existence through magic and faith in the maxim, “anything is possible if you just believe.”

Trevor turns on Ashley

Trevor turns on Ashley

But can we make Nature love us if we just believe hard enough? Jim Sterba has recently argued that humans’ partial success in the twentieth century at taming Nature has made us complacent. Wild animals that were decimated or on the verge of extinction are resurging in ex-urban and suburban areas where humans have lost a sense of the boundary between wilderness and civilization. Romanticizing Nature became popular in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries precisely because it was no longer a threat, but as neighbor Ashley — the mean old voice of reason — keeps reminding the romantic humans around her, no matter how cute Trevor was, he was always a wild animal. And no matter how cute they are, we cannot, and perhaps will never be able to understand wild animals. We don’t — we can’t — share a profound, mutual understanding with them because their world is not ours. That is the tragic lesson to be learned from Trevor: the all-too-human desire for empathy and companionship can lead to fatal lapses in judgment. In the end, Trevor can never become a real little boy.

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