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Two Plays More Than Worth Your Time

Photo courtesy Big Idea Theatre
Trevor (Brian Bohlendar), center, is in his imaginary world with Morgan Fairchild (Rachel Jahnsen) and his chimp acting pal Oliver (Ryan Snyder).

This is an especially good weekend for theater fans in Sacramento. Two plays — “Trevor” at Big Idea Theatre and “August: Osage County” at Capital Stage — offer more than just superficial entertainment. Beneath the humor (and both are quite funny) is a compelling emotional core.

Big Idea’s production of “Trevor” wraps up with three shows, this Thursday through Saturday; Cap Stage’s “August: Osage County” is just getting into full swing with performances through Nov. 20.

Trevor

“Trevor” by Nick Jones is the story of a minor has-been celebrity having trouble adjusting to life outside the spotlight. He once appeared with Morgan Fairchild, for goodness sake, and now, as they say, he can’t get arrested. His neighbor, a new mother, would like to have him locked up for his joy-riding escapades, like the one that ends with his car on an embankment in her yard; meanwhile, his adoptive mother tries to protect him for an outside world that just doesn’t understand what he’s going through. Trevor is depressed, feeling like a failure. Oh, and he’s a chimpanzee.

The play is a show-biz satire, but it’s also a plea for greater compassion for animals and a treatise on our lack of communication on so many levels. Trevor expresses himself but the humans around him hear only an animal’s grunts. They don’t seem to understand each other much better.

Brian Bohlender turns in a fascinating performance as Trevor. He simulates simian behavior in a most believable way, his arms somehow looking elongated like a chimp’s and his jumps and squeals are quite realistic. It’s an added dimension to his speaking role. Shaleen Schmutzer-Smith plays Trevor’s “mom,” a fierce defender of her charge, who makes a brave stand against an angry neighbor (Jamie Kale) and animal control and law enforcement agencies. In addition to the “reality” of Trevor’s existence is a fantasy world in which a fellow former animal actor, Oliver (Ryan Snyder in a white tux), and actress Morgan Fairchild (Rachel Jahnsen) make appearances.

“Trevor” makes us laugh even as it asks us to think about the ways we treat animals, caring more about our visions of them than their natural needs, wants and instincts. Joelle Robertson directs the play, with all its absurdist wit and ironic tone intact.

The play continues at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday at Big Idea Theatre, 1616 Del Paso Blvd. Tickets are $10 on Thrifty Thursday and $20 at the door on Friday and Saturday. Online tickets run $14-$16. For more information: (916) 960-3036 or bigideatheatre.org.

Janis Stevens plays Violet the pill-popping matriarch of a quickly disintegrating family that includes Amy Resnick, left, as daughter Barbara and Jamie Jones, right, as Violet's sister Mattie Fae.
Janis Stevens plays Violet the pill-popping matriarch of a quickly disintegrating family that includes Amy Resnick, left, as daughter Barbara and Jamie Jones, right, as Violet’s sister Mattie Fae. By Charr Crail.

August: Osage County

Over at Capital Stage, a large ensemble cast led by three of the strongest female actors around takes on playwright Tracy Letts’ unflinching family drama, “August: Osage County.” The commanding Janis Stevens plays Violet, the matriarch of an extended Oklahoma plains family that hustles home upon news of the disappearance of patriarch Beverly (Rich Hebert). Violet’s sister Mattie Fae Aiken (Jamie Jones, powerfully projecting her character’s familiar false façade) brings along her sedate husband Charlie (Harvey T. Jordan) and, later, their son Little Charles (Justin D. Munoz). Oldest daughter Barbara (Amy Resnick, challenging the limits of emotional endurance) arrives from Colorado with her estranged husband Bill (Rick Eldridge) and 14-year-old daughter Jean (Jessica Brooks). Middle daughter Ivy (Taylor Burris) lives nearby and has been given the difficult task of keeping check on Violet and Beverly during their many difficulties. Ivy, who is unmarried, is having a secret relationship with a younger man whose identity would shock and shame the family. Youngest daughter Karen (Dena Martinez) arrives from Florida with her fiancé Steve (William Glasser), a thrice-married rather shady businessman.

Heavily influenced by such playwrights as Tennessee Williams, Eugene O’Neill and Edward Albee, Letts’ gives us a family on the apocalyptic edge. Violet, who has been institutionalized once for her drug addiction to narcotics, is now suffering from mouth cancer (she still smokes) and continues to take pills, ostensibly for the pain of cancer treatment, but mainly to numb herself from reality. She’s often in a pill-induced stupor, but always ready for a vicious tongue-lashing putdown of everyone around her. She is clearly self-destructing, but the fate of others in the family isn’t all that much brighter.

As they wait for news on the fate of Beverly, the women variously discover and reveal secrets that paint an entirely different picture of their lives as they would have others believe. This is sex, lies and videotape without the videotape. And the damage that can be — and is — done by these secrets and lies is massive. In the end, this family will be devastated, and there appears to be no happy ending in sight.

All that said, “August: Osage County,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play, is also very funny. Director Benjamin T. Ismail carefully balances the acerbic and the absurd and keeps each shifting scene and revelation a surprise. The action takes  place on an ingenious multi-level stage designed by Jonathan Williams with lighting and scenic design associate Brian Harrower.

Performances of “August: Osage County” continue at 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 20 at Capital Stage, 2215 J St. Tickets range from $23 to $40. For more information: (916) 995-5464 or capstage.org.

Featured photo courtesy of Big Idea Theatre

About the author

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes has masters degrees in English and journalism and is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in popular culture at Stanford University. He has covered Sacramento arts and entertainment for more than 20 years. He currently writes about and reviews theater, dance, music and events in the Sacramento area.

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