What can our elders teach us?
From the moment of birth we first rely, then admire, love, discover, accept/reject/revere/idolize/despise those older, more experienced and, presumably, wiser than us.
Just as nobody truly owns, say, a peach orchard in the Okanagan, nobody completely possesses another human being—whether related or not. “No trespassing” signs, laws or traditions in either sphere (material/human) have little meaning to free spirits who’ve chosen to play every card dealt—shamelessly, dangerously bluffing their way through the perpetual gamble of daily existence.
With The Trespassers, playwright/director Morris Panych raises the stakes on his considerable talents and wins big. Allowing his characters to keep their personal cards close to the chest (or, incredulously, on one, in a moment of sexual awakening that is cut from the same fabric as The Graduate), Panych has fashioned an extraordinarily compassionate tale of chemical imbalance, insidious cancer and unspoken (but ever-present) love that can’t help but resonate with audiences of all ages.
The players are a director’s dream, employing both sensitive ensemble skills and first-class solo smarts.
Noah Reid devours the role of 15-year-old Lowell with an astonishing emotional range and intensity that makes his Stratford début an important event: if this is indicative of the next generation of actors then there will be much to celebrate for decades to come.
From body language (unconsciously gripping his T-shirt like the security blanket it is, wordlessly reinforces the inner turmoil that is a hallmark of people living with bipolar disorder—eschewing medication, an act of teenage defiance that is as understandable as it is life threatening) to his wide-eyed visage, Reid sets an incredibly high benchmark for others to achieve in future productions (similar to The Incredible Speediness of Jamie Cavanaugh—cross-reference below—this work needs to find its way into our schools). Yet, one gets the feeling—like Usain Bolt breaking his own records—that when recast in the future, Reid will bring even more depth and understanding to the challenging assignment.
At the other end of the age spectrum is Lowell’s wily grandfather (Joseph Ziegler). Looking a tad like Red Green, but with far more layers of wisdom, Ziegler dives into the outwardly irascible (sharing his favourite centrefolds and his one-time mistress, now companion—all in the interest of educating the unacknowledged love of his fading life in ways the youth’s abandoned, God-fearing mother, Cash, never could) part with zest, relish and courage-in-the-face-of-unstoppable-cancer which dramatically balances the unstinting devotion of the old man’s impressionable charge. Often literally at his knee, Lowell learns the finer points of pornography, booze, sex and—most importantly—creative lying to squirm out of awkward situations (inventing an invisible friend, Freddy the Jehovah’s Witness produces some of the play’s funniest moments).
The foil to both man and boy comes in the personage of Kelli Fox—caught between unequivocal love for her son and a complex love-hate relationship with her cantankerous dad. Fox instinctively knows when to push forward or pull back, always aware that it’s the men in her life who are at the heart of the proceedings. Nonetheless, the extended scene trying to pry out death-bed revelations from her pain-riddled parent is a gem in and of itself. (Those in the crowd with a terminal illness or caring for loved ones fighting for their lives can only hope to “face” such a moment while there is still time—clearly, Panych has.)
As the former stripper/escort/lover, now soul mate, Roxy, Lucy Peacock turns in a gritty performance that makes her twin loves (Hardy and alcohol—afternoon tea laced with rye whisky another well-placed moment of fun) as believable as the legions of “service industry” women who enjoyed the fast lane only to finally find—then, ultimately lose—the one real love of their perpetually addled existence.
Milton of the RCMP (Robert King) asks all the right questions (many of which get more than one answer from Lowell, an unlikely, scrambling murder suspect—“Why would you kill someone you love?”) during his fact-finding interrogations which follow Hardy’s unexpectedly violent demise. The dramatic technique’s ritornello of flashing forward and back between these interviews (at one with the Appalachian infused score that, in turn, tellingly balances the Johnny Cash “Overture” and “Entr’acte”) anchors the script and skilfully breaks up the scenes.
The overriding metaphor of trespassers picking tender fruit from an abandoned tree just prior to its inevitable fall to earth and—having served no useful purpose—rotting return to the soil plays itself out in hospitals and retirement institutions daily. When it’s our turn, should we wither up, disfigured—stoically hurting or blissfully drugged to the last breath?—or seek out an angel of mercy with enough love and courage to send us to whatever comes next with dignity. JWR