Theater Review: THE INTERLOPERS (Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles)

by Tony Frankel on July 8, 2011

in Theater-Los Angeles

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When Ralph Waldo Emerson referred to an “interloper” in his writings, it was most assuredly with a negative connotation, for in the 1800s an interloper was one who selfishly intruded on others for the purposes of rank, privilege or money. The interlopers of Gary Lennon’s world premiere play at the Bootleg Theater are pre-op transgender people – those who have yet to have the surgery that will change their sexual characteristics. The very declaration of such an operation does indeed intrude on the belief system of normalcy in society, but in Lennon’s play, which is didactic more than cathartic, the true interlopers appear to be the villainous patriarchs who intrude on their children’s right to be who they are.

The InterlopersAlthough we are infinitely entertained by Lennon’s basic plot (a Trans love story) and humane characters (brought to life by the incredible cast), both are drawn in a Brechtian agitprop style: the people are either completely virtuous (the over-accepting mom) or scandalously evil (the implacable father); there is the dissemination of all things transsexual (propaganda), and we are urged to do what is expected of us in a Dr. Philian world: love and accept each other (agitation).

Yet Brechtian agitprop, that is theater as a force for social change, infrequently feeds American drama, presumably because we don’t like to be told what to do or think. To achieve the emotional impact necessary for a revolution of ideals, successful American agitprop plays contain characters who are conflicted by their dilemma, perfectly realized in scripts such as C.W. Taylor’s dramatization of  Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Arthur Miller’s  The Crucible, Larry Kramer’s  The Normal Heart and Tony Kushner’s Angels In America.

Due to this lack of internal moral predicaments, The Interlopers stands as a tenuous work which threatens to become outdated at run’s end, not just because of the rapidity of today’s societal acceptance regarding such topics, but because the play unintentionally smacks of an After School Special, largely due to the overuse of talking head monologues in which we are told what to take from this dramedy. Although tragedy ensues in the plot (thereby liberating the characters to a higher plane of enlightenment), it keeps the audience from arriving at our own conclusion regarding this thorny issue, thus forfeiting a thought-provoking resonance for a feel-good dichotomy.

Why, then, is this production of a problematic script enthusiastically recommended? Because of Jim Fall’s genuine direction, the actors’ rich humanity and the estimable subject matter.

The InterlopersSince Mr. Lennon’s characters are so self-aware from the get-go that they have nowhere to go and little to discover, Mr. Fall wisely restrains his thespians from histrionic, grandiose performances. The material may be obvious but the acting is not. Diarra Kilpatrick perfectly embodies the female-to-male transgender, mix-raced Lou with a happy-go-lucky, passionate swagger, using a nonchalant ghetto patois to belie her vulnerability. Trevor Peterson is endearing as Michelle (formerly Michael), Lou’s love interest, winning our empathy with a credible defenselessness. As Gertie, Michelle’s battle-fatigued and understanding mother, Tara Karsian powerfully internalizes her myriad of emotions such that she nails both the comedic and dramatic elements of her brittle marriage to Ed (a brutal and scary RD Call, who does the best he can with the one-note character of the cold-hearted father). Leandro Cano (who triumphed in Boston Court’s Oedipus El Rey) works wonders with the thankless role of Lou’s brutal, alcoholic Hispanic dad.

Clifford Mores is so well-cast as the therapist Daniel that you would be hard-pressed to know where the actor stops and the character begins, and Paul Elia oozes with charm as a bisexual who searches for love on the internet. But it is Darryl Stephens who truly steals the spotlight as transvestite Victoria, who is so busy being a woman that transgenderism may be an afterthought; Mr. Stephens has a field day stamping, stomping, mugging and smacking his lips (it’s a good thing Jason Adam’s set design is basically curtained scrims, or Mr. Stephens would have chewed up any and all scenery); truly, it is the best work that Mr. Stephens has done.

The InterlopersAnn Closs-Farley is hands-down the best costume designer in Los Angeles theatre – if you don’t believe me, take a look at Victoria’s shoes. Corwin Evans video design is a bit fuzzy and the warehouse space at the Bootleg was clearly too challenging for his sound design: you may need to sit up front to hear every word.

The creators are to be commended for presenting this material, but the hope is that they will up the ante on this project and become the interlopers in the current theatrical landscape, which is desperately lacking in transformative productions. It’s as if American Theatre is in a state of pre-op itself, but is too timid to actually go through with the procedure. Where it is headed is uncertain, but maybe we can go from male (testosterone-driven extravaganzas) to female (emotionally substantive). Then again, since so much theatre lacks balls, maybe we can sew some on and see what happens.

tonyfrankel @

photos by Ashley West Leonard

The Interlopers
scheduled to end on July 23
for tickets, visit

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Alan Mandell July 10, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Well Tony ,
I wasn’t planning on seeing this but your review convinced me to go.
Your reviews are always insightful and honest. I’m out of town next week
so I’ll go the week after,


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