Sunday, March 15, 2015

TREVOR by Nick Jones / Circle X at the Atwater

Smash .. Brilliant..  Funny.. Provocative..  Better than Broadway because..  Nick Jones’ west coast premier of his play is better than Broadway or The Taper or The Geffen.. (well, maybe The Geffen might try this).. and certainly better than any giant house you may have sat in the nosebleed section to see a show at because it is presented in an INTIMATE 99 Seat Theatre in Los Angeles.  Atwater, to be specific. 

We attend the theatre for many reasons, don’t we?  It’s the hallowed ground where one may experience romance, comedy, tragedy, drama, music.  We go to be entertained and educated; charmed and wooed.  In Los Angeles, we have had, for more than forty years, dozens of small theatres created by kids out of college as well as movie stars and hundreds of Theatre Majors in between who have a deep love of and infectious desire to create Art under what is known as the 99 Seat Plan.  In a nutshell, the Plan allows creative theatre people to come together in storefronts, warehouses, living rooms and industrial spaces to follow in the footsteps of Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland with some lights and a stage and a dream.  I believe that Arthur’s Barn in Garden Grove was, at one time a space for plays, as well.  This is all to say that Theatre by the seat of  its pants can only exist where there is freedom to do so. Currently, the Actors Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers, provides special dispensation for these tiny spaces where new theatre can be produced without a major financial investment.  The Atwater Village Theatre, currently housing Circle X and The Echo Theatre Companies was founded by a woman who so loved the idea of putting on a show that she gathered together friends and with much of her own money literally built three spaces for the Theatre Arts. 

I interrupt my rave of TREVOR in the hope that audiences who may read these reviews, along with the actors and others who create in this popular medium in Los Angeles will stay awake to the burgeoning evil that is advancing on The 99 Seat Plan, perpetrated by the very union that is supposed to be helping actors!
Laurie Metcalf, Jimmi Simpson and Malcolm Barrett 
PHOTO CREDIT:  Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging for Circle X Theatre Co

So impressive is Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s realistic set that one is immediately swept into a somewhat disheveled middle class home belonging to Sandra Morris (Amazingly superb Laurie Metcalf).  Her husband has died.  The two of them some years ago bought a baby chimpanzee whom they named Trevor from someone out of the back of a truck in a Walmart parking lot. They have raised him like their own son.  Trevor (May I use the term ‘amazing’ again to describe Jimmi Simpson!?) is older now.  He’s had some success as an actor.  His dad has passed away and now Sandra is his mother/keeper who speaks to him in sign language.  He understands little English, but speaks clearly narrating his view of the world.  Jones has created a world with an animal who behaves a bit like Ed Grimley, I must say.  Simpson’s physicality completely draws us into Trevor’s world. We find ourselves on a TV sound stage with his leading lady, Morgan Fairchild (Well fluffed and sexy Brenda Strong).  His ‘work’ is perfect and one take is all that is necessary. He dreams of doing a show again with Morgan: His love. His desire.  His obsession.

Director Stella Powell-Jones sweeps the stage with great physicality not only in Simpson’s character, but the entire cast.  She uses the wide stage well. 

At rise, Trevor rushes in the front door, having crashed Sandra’s car on the neighbor’s lawn!  Sandra brushes this off as not such a big deal, but her neighbor, Ashley, a new mother who is very concerned (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) sees trouble on the horizon.  Story is expanded with visions of another successful chimp, Oliver (Bob Clendenin in his introductory appearance: White tails and cane!).   Oliver chats Show Biz with Trevor as the inevitable attempts at resolution with family friend and local constabulary, Jim (Jim Ortlieb) bubbles up.  Malcolm Barrett rounds out the cast doubling as the PA for the TV shoot and as the overly excitable Animal Control Officer.

Jones’ script is tight and well played.  There are strong laughs and dangerous dangers, all whirling about Simpson’s fine turn as the chimpanzee.  Like “Sylvia” played by the world’s cutest actress, Simpson embodies his Trevor with intelligence and grace.  His is not a caricature of an ape.  The performance is, at once touching and believable, which is saying something.  This is a play that should not be missed. And, it must be mentioned that it is virtually BECAUSE of the 99 Seat Plan that Circle X Theatre Company is able to put the show up.  If Actors Equity is successful in its plan to gut this boon to actors and small theatres in Los Angeles, the expense and red tape that would lumber Circle X might easily force them to abandon this type of wonderful work. 

By Nick Jones
Circle X Theatre Company
At The Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Thursday thru Saturday at 8PM
Sundays at 2PM
Through April 19, 2015
Tickets and information:

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