Theatre review: The Trespassers – succulent in spirit and big in heart

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I admit to not remembering my own grandfathers very well but if I did, I would want to remember them with the same heart as playwright Morris Panych does in his wonderfully poignant and funny The Trespassers, currently on stage at the Vancouver Playhouse.

Early fall, the Okanagan peaches are falling off the trees in great abundance.  Scattered across the stage are the remnants of the year’s harvest although a few are still ripe for the picking in the orchards that once belonged to Hardy’s (Brian Dooley) family.

We meet Hardy, his grandson Lowell (Amitai Marmorstein) and his mother, Hardy’s daughter, Cash (Natascha Girgis).  Hardy is the patriarch of the family since the departure of Lowell’s father and his free-wheeling, almost hippy-like ideas about life and how to raise Lowell clash constantly with his daughter’s Christian beliefs. Lessons on poker, sex and the idea of communal property are lapped up by the naive Lowell, who battles a bi-polar diagnosis.

Added to the mix are Hardy’s “paramour” Roxy (the always delightful Jennifer Clement) and an RCMP officer (Raphael Kepinski) who, through a series of flashbacks brings the central mystery of that fateful night in the orchard.

The cast of The Trespassers
Amitai Marmorstein, Brian Dooley and Jennifer Clement in the Vancouver Playhouse preduction of The Trespassers


Marmorstein and Dooley provide a true connection when they are together and the love they feel for each other is almost palpable.  An example of this connection are the several times Lowell plays with his grandfather’s beard while the two speak; without that connection it would look awakward, here it seems perfectly natural. I did find Marmorstein’s infrequent bi-polar mood swings a little over-the-top at times, but fortunately they were short-lived.

Clement was at ease as the trashy Roxy and skilfully side-stepped the easy stereotype of her character and Girgis’ mother was just the right amount of protective and lost.  Kepinski as the cop has one of the toughest jobs here being on stage for most of the performance but having one of the smallest parts.

Along with the excellent work by the cast, Kerem Cetinel has got to be the hardest working lighting designer on any Vancouer stage right now.  Moving us from reality to flashback at break-neck speed, providing autumnal coloured lights to characters that are not the focus and the bright whites of the interrogation all add to the experience.  Narda McCarroll’s simple set works well and the lights, representing peaches in the orchards, that hung above the set were almost magical.

Succulent in its spirit, The Trespassers has a huge heart that reaches to the back of the house.

Now go, if you’re lucky enough to still have one, call your Grandpa and tell him you love him and ask him to teach you to play poker.

4 Out of 5 StarsThe Trespassers

By Morris Panych.  Directed by Ron Jenkins.  A Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company / Belfry Theatre presentation.  On stage at the Vancouver Playhouse through April 16, 2011.

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