When I do multiple reviews in one post, I TRY to make sure that there’s some connection with the shows being reviewed…a common theme, or thread, or style of production. Even just similarities in titles.
And, sometimes you just can’t make it work.
Here’s a review about a play about a showbiz chimp and a “musical review” about Patsy Cline.
Hey! Both are about showbiz! We have a theme!!!
First up is the chimp. It’s TREVOR an odd little play by Nick Jones and produced by one of my favorite theater companies in town, the kids at MAP Theatre who certainly do have a love and appreciation for doing quirky, strange and frequently terrific plays. Last year, they produced another animal inspired show, Year of the Rooster about a blue collar schlub and his rooster (played by an actor) competing in the high stakes and very violent world of cock-fighting. It was a great show, with a clever script, smart direction and really fantastic performances from a cast headed by MAP Theatre’s co-founder Brandon Ryan as the schlub. Year of the Rooster was one of my favorite productions of 2018.
Sadly, I can’t say the same thing about Trevor which also involves humans playing animals and is set in an average middle class home. This time it’s a chimpanzee named (duh) Trevor who belongs to a sweetly befuddled woman named Sandra and the play is about the problems caused by a wild animal living in a housewife’s home in a dull neighborhood in a small town.
Trevor can best be described as…a tragi-comedy? It’s funny at times but also not, and it’s ultimately tragic, in a forced kind of way. Loosely based on a true story of a similar woman owning a chimp, the tragedy is telegraphed early on…Sandra is clearly too dim and self-absorbed to accept the fact she isn’t the right person to have a wild animal and we have a concerned neighborhood mom with a baby (heard crying in the distance) worried about living next door to a chimp.
Ya think that crying baby might eventually be a plot point?
The humor in Trevor the Play comes from Trevor (the chimp) himself…I mean, chimps are funny, right? (Personally, chimps/monkeys kinda freak me out; they’re fine…from a distance….on a TV/monitor screen.) He’s portrayed as a sentient being albeit one who acts like a showbiz obsessed 11 year old kid with ADHD. Trevor has had some very minor success, when young, in local small town show business and actually had one big shot at Chimp Stardom when he appeared with 70s/80s television starlet Morgan Fairchild in a commercial and an unaired TV special. Since then, he’s dreamed of returning to Hollywood (and Morgan Fairchild, who he has a crush on) and furthering his career.
That’s the gist of Trevor the play and chimp. He runs around a lot obsessing over his career while the dim Sandra fails to cope and the neighbors/local authorities worry about the situation. Oh, and “Morgan Fairchild” appears in fantasy/flashbacks and another showbiz chimp, appears as a fantasy mentor in Trevor’s daydreams. The first 2/3 of the play are “funny” then it gets unpleasant at the end. It’s not a subtle mix.
It all sounds potentially cute, but…I didn’t really care for Trevor. Unlike Year of the Rooster, the script for Trevor is messy and unfocused and includes a very stupid “coda” at the end of the play that tries to wrap it all up…and, fails. I like the idea of Trevor not being written and portrayed as a stereotypical chimp; but the “showbiz obsession” that drives the character actually wore out its welcome quite quickly for me. The play actually feels like a second rate Saturday Night Live sketch, the kind that really isn’t that beloved, but still manages to get on air 3 or 4 times a season to fill up space in the last half hour. The only component of the script that really clicked for me was the character of Sandra, the always making excuses and promises she knows she’ll never keep owner of Trevor. I’ve known women like Sandra before and I’m suspecting writer Nick Jones might have had a Sandra or two in his life. It’s the only part of the play that feels organic and real.
That all said, I think the actual production is well done…MAP knows how to produce a play. It has a handsome set design by Robin Macartney and solid direction from veteran Seattle director Julie Beckman. The cast is very good with Brandon Ryan nicely capturing the life of a frenetic chimp without going too broad with it. He makes Trevor very likable, even when Trevor does some not so nice things. And, Teri Lazzara is excellent as the vague “mom” Sandra….she really nails all of Sandra’s character flaws and failings. I also liked Zenaida Smith, who has double duty here, fine as the worried next door mom and very funny as her approximation of “Morgan Fairchild” though hampered by a wig that looks more like a dust mop than any hair style ever worn by Ms Fairchild.
All in all it’s a fine production of a “meh” play. It’s possible to enjoy the modest charms of the plot while admiring the talent of the company producing it…while preferring last year’s “cock” to this year’s chimp.
Review: TREVOR by Nick Jones. Produced by MAP Theatre. Directed by Julie Beckman. Fight Choreography by Tom Dewey. Scenic Design by Robin Macartney. Costume Design by Corinne Magin. Lighting Design by Levi Plumb. Sound Design by Mario Gomez. Wig Design by Sam I’Am. With Teri J. Lazzara, Brandon Ryan, Zenaida Smith, Danielle Daggerty, Michael D. Blum, Jesse Calixto. On stage March 8 through March 30, 2019 at 18th & Union Arts Space/Capitol Hill
Taproot Theatre in North Seattle has a different showbiz story on their Isaac Studio stage. It’s a return for a very popular production from the past, the musical review ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE which has had very successful runs 10 years ago (at different theaters) with the same cast onstage at Taproot: talented local Seattle actors Cayman Ilika (as Patsy Cline) and Kate Jaeger (as uber fan, Louise Seger).
For the very young and the clueless, Patsy Cline was a groundbreaking mid century singer who came up through the Grand Ole Opry and the country/western music scene but was one of the first artists to cross over into pop with her lush voice and hit songs like “Crazy” and “Sweet Dreams”. Patsy had a long slow climb up the ladder of success in the 1950s to becoming a major name by the early 60s but her death in 1963 at the age of 30, in an airplane crash, ended her mortal career while her legacy continued.
Cline was known as one of the most friendly stars in Nashville (her mentorship of Loretta Lynn is depicted in the film Coal Miner’s Daughter) and she was the type who would befriend anyone, including fans like Houston Texas resident Louise Seger. The pair met in 1961 and established a friendship mostly conducted via mail. This review, Always…Patsy Cline is based on that relationship.
You notice I’m using the term “review” to describe this show and that’s for a very good reason…it’s not a play and it’s not really a musical. It’s a concert of Patsy Cline’s greatest hits strung together with the very loose framework of Cline and Seger’s “relationship”. From an actual historical/biographical viewpoint, this show isn’t very accurate; I’m not really an expert on Patsy Cline (though a big fan) but while watching this production, I kept murmuring to myself, “That doesn’t seem right…” more than once over the course of the evening.
And, the clunky linking device of Louise Seger is a major downfall of this show. Patsy Cline had a fascinating and rather turbulent short life that included a rough childhood, failed marriages, and a serious car accident (not even mentioned in this show). Yeah, it’s supposed to be a light entertainment focused on Cline’s voice/songs but the through line used here, with the ultimate fangurl, Louise Seger was just annoying. We never get to KNOW Cline because we’re just hearing a super condensed/sanitized/fake Wikipedia version of her life through the voice/eyes of Louise Seger.
And, here’s the part that pains me because I hate giving great performers “negative” reviews but…I didn’t care for either Cayman Ilika’s performance or Kate Jaeger’s despite being fans of their past work.
A large part of the problem is the awful script since the character of “Patsy Cline” isn’t given anything to act; she’s just a nice, rather boring songbird. And, Louise Seger is just an obsessed fan who won’t shut up talking about Patsy. Basically, the writers give the Seger character too much personality and Patsy is left with nothing but songs to sing. So the result is, Kate Jaeger is a frenetic mugger that distracts from the supposed main reason to see a show about Patsy Cline, and Cayman Ilika just stands there to sing pretty songs but isn’t allowed to develop a personality AS Patsy.
Also, if I’m being frank, Cayman Ilika is a lovely musical theater singer/actress but she sounds NOTHING like Patsy Cline. Obviously an actor isn’t going to sound precisely like a star/icon they are portraying, especially when it’s one with a very unique and special voice but…I never really much of an approximation of Patsy Cline from Ms Ilika. It’s just a nice, talented musical theater artist singing Patsy Cline hits in her own voice.
There’s also issues with Karen Lund’s awkward staging…it’s awkward. And, the sound isn’t even good in a show that’s a musical review about a famous singer…the band frequently overwhelmed Ms Ilika’s voice.
So, yeah. I’m gonna be the bad guy to give a supposedly beloved show a bad review. But, this isn’t a play and it isn’t a musical…at best, it’s a fan based musical review that belongs in a suburban dinner theater circa 1979. If you’re a real Patsy Cline fan and love her beautiful voice, go listen to a greatest hits album and revel in…
“Sweet dreams of you
Every night I go through
Why can’t I forget you and start my life anew
Instead of having sweet dreams about you…”