Trespassing on Eden?

by Yule Heibel on September 17, 2010

The week has been busy somehow, which is why I didn’t write a post yesterday (even though I did something wayyyy beyond my comfort zone last night – maybe more on that tomorrow?), and I won’t pretend to pen anything for the ages in tonight’s post, either.

I’ll just say that I went to see Morris Panych’s play, The Trespassers, at the Belfry Theatre tonight, and I liked it. A lot.

First, a quick recap of the characters (and, very briefly, the story): Lowell (a 15-year old boy), Hardy (his grandfather), and Cash (his mother) live together in Hardy’s house in a deadsville town where the sole employer (the mill) has closed. Cash, whose husband abandoned her and her son the year before, has become a born-again Christian. Hardy is an auto-didact intellectual and atheist; he’s also a socialist and was the union-leader whose hard-line stance against the capitalists (mill owners) allegedly resulted in the mill closing. Lowell is …well, 15. His mother claims he attempted suicide, Lowell claims it was a joke. The mother had him assessed (diagnosis: bipolar) and insists on medication (Lithium); the grandfather calls bullshit. (See this review, which sides with Hardy – and Panych?; and this one, which seems sympathetic to Cash’s medically-sanctioned intervention.)

Hardy’s house is next door to peach orchard on a property owned by the absentee heirs of the now-defunct means of production (the mill owners left for greener pastures, but continue to own the orchard). During the course of the play we learn that Hardy’s father used to own the property (including the peach orchard), and that Hardy lost it to the mill owners in a poker game. The two other characters are Roxy (a former stripper/ prostitute-turned-radio hostess who happens to be Hardy’s girlfriend) and Milton (a police officer).

The story opens – and continually returns – to its title theme of trespass: Hardy frequently goads Lowell into trespassing onto the orchard to gather the fruit that has fallen to the ground (which Hardy says is not stealing).

Toward the end of the play – and I won’t give the plot away – Hardy advises Lowell to leave the deadsville town, to stop hanging on to any one place, to go where no one knows him and to make his life in the world.

In my viewing of the play, the orchard was like the Garden of Eden – from which Hardy was expelled, literally through the luck of the draw, through capricious fate, through how the cards were dealt. There’s no moral to the tale of how that Eden was lost, which in turn lends weight to Hardy’s atheism. But Hardy also spends far too much time constantly trying to get back into the garden, and it has cost him his personal growth. A man of such complexity should not have shackled himself to a lost paradise. In the end, the only way he gets out is by dying – which is why he tells Lowell to leave while he still can, as a young man. (That Lowell should be named for Lowell, Massachusetts, as we learn during the play, lends credence to the “on the road” theme – Lowell, MA was of course Jack Kerouac’s birthplace.)

The other theme is that trespass is inevitable: if you want to live and grow, you can’t not trespass – in all senses of the word, including the biblical (forgive others their trespasses in order to be forgiven for yours: it’s part of the whole being-human gig). Trespass resonates with meanings: to go beyond, to move from place to place, to violate boundaries, …and: to wrong someone or to sin against moral law …perhaps by lying barefacedly, as Hardy teaches Lowell to do. But as Lowell learns from Hardy, “There’s something in between lying and not lying. It’s called a story.” And in the end, the story is what gets our interest and moves us out into the world, for our own good.

(See also this interview with Morris Panych.)

PS: I realize I haven’t said anything about the direction or acting in this production by The Belfry Theatre. It seems to me that, if this production let me “see” the themes I saw, it must have been pretty damn good. Brian Dooley‘s Hardy was especially compelling, but all the characters were well-played: Jennifer Clement as Roxy; Natascha Girgis as Cash; Raphael Kepinski as Milton; and Amitai Marmorstein as Lowell.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

maria September 18, 2010 at 9:07 am

Great review! You sure made me want to go see the play, but since I can’t actually do that, I am going to try to get a hold of a print version, because it does sound fascinating.

Yule September 18, 2010 at 4:41 pm

I’m sure you’ll find it an interesting read, Maria. I left out a lot – practically everything, actually (including a discussion of the actors, except for the bit at the end), but it’s a complex play with a complex timeline (backwards / forwards / present) and very difficult to summarize without bowdlerizing it.
It got dinged by a few reviewers. Eg., I read a some reviews (iirc of the Shakespeare Theatre Festival production) that weren’t very enthusiastic at all, and it made me wonder if the production I saw had better actors and timing?
Curiously, none of them referenced the Garden of Eden aspect, or had much reference at all to the biblical dimension of trespass (seems to me, given Hardy’s atheism and the questions around God & Cash’s born again Christianity, that they’re key).
And I hope I’m not totally off wrt Lowell / Jack Kerouac since I didn’t see that referenced anywhere else, but it made sense to me. For example, at one point in the play, Hardy proposes that he and Lowell just “take off” in a car – they get about to the end of the driveway (metaphorically speaking) and Hardy freezes: he CANNOT get “on the road,” he’s just not going to get away.

maria September 18, 2010 at 9:07 pm

Well, now you really got me interested in getting my hands on this play! 🙂

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