TREVOR IS an actor looking for work. He’s a local celebrity with showbiz experience and some good connections—Morgan Fairchild is a “personal friend”—who takes the car to distribute headshots and has plenty of vision about his craft. He’s expecting a call from Hollywood any day now.

Alas, Trevor, played by John San Nicolas in Artist Repertory Theatre’s production of the same name, is a chimpanzee. He’s well past adolescence, and this means he has a couple things going against him: swollen red genitals and an increasingly bad temperament.

“If you can behave, the world will open up to you,” Trevor’s successful, white-tuxedo-wearing chimpanzee friend Oliver (Michael Mendelson) tells him. Trevor tries, but it gets harder as his hopes are repeatedly dashed and his independence is increasingly threatened. Why is everyone so upset about his taking the car? Was he supposed to take it for an inspection, too? Why can’t he drink coffee anymore?

The play, by Orange Is the New Black writer Nick Jones, fictionalizes the story of Travis the chimpanzee, who viciously mauled a woman in 2009. Drawing on many but not all the particulars of this sensational news story, Jones’ taut, darkly funny play explores questions raised by the tragedy—questions about relationships between species, pet ownership, chimpanzee consciousness and exploitation, and how well-meaning people can be as dangerous to one another as animals.

The play’s delightful humor runs on dramatic irony—and lack of understanding also underpins the conflict and looming disaster. While Trevor is looking for work, Sandra (Sarah Lucht), his owner/adoptive mother, is coming under increasing pressure from her community to get rid of Trevor, who, they fear, can no longer be controlled. Just as Trevor cannot entirely comprehend humans and their objectives, Sandra cannot grasp why her neighbors are frightened by her chimpanzee—nor can she fully understand Trevor himself, dangerously projecting and underestimating his simian psychology.

Lucht’s Sandra is thoroughly convincing as she toes the line between being devoted and coming unhinged. Meanwhile, San Nicolas’ Trevor is endearing—though a little like your messy, out-of-work roommate. The character is both human and chimp-like, and charmingly conceived. The convergence of funny, well-written material and moving performances from the entire cast under the direction of Dámaso Rodriguez makes for an exciting season opener for Artists Repertory Theatre.