Why Is This Play About a Violent Chimpanzee So Hilarious? (GO!)

Jimmi Simpson and Laurie Metcalf in TrevorEXPAND
Jimmi Simpson and Laurie Metcalf in Trevor
Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging

It’s difficult to put a finger on exactly what makes Trevor, Nick Jones’ 2013 absurdist fable that's making its Los Angeles premiere at Circle X Theatre, so wickedly hilarious. Particularly as the play is based on a gruesome, real-life incident in which a beloved adult pet chimpanzee was shot dead by police after viciously tearing off the face of a family friend.

Possibly it’s because the chimp of both the headline and the play is an ex-performing ape, a former small-time TV star of both commercials and talk shows, who has aged far beyond his cute and precocious juvenile prime. And in Jones’ hands, that becomes the potently funny stuff for an unrelenting satire about has-been actors, the delusionary quality of fame and how unconditional love can enable our darkest natures.

Jones’ first stroke of genius comes with Trevor’s entrance: A scruffy and wonderfully hyperactive Jimmi Simpson saunters into designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s cluttered suburban-house set, flops on the couch and begins rationalizing to his “mother” (the great Laurie Metcalf) about a botched Dunkin Donuts audition. It is only when Simpson ambles to the kitchen with an ungainly simian gait that we understand why he and Metcalf have been talking past one another — they are different species.

From that opening, the play’s grim trajectory becomes inevitable. That it also proves such a deliciously laugh-packed ride can finally be attributed to the split-second precision of an inspired ensemble (which includes Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Malcolm Barrett, Brenda Strong, Jim Ortlieb and Bob Clendenin) and director Stella Powell-Jones’ flawless production.

GO! Circle X Theatre at Atwater Village Theater, 3269 Casitas Ave., Atwater; through April 26. circlextheatre.org.

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