Stark, searing and sensational. The best revival or new play I have seen this season. This production of the timeless ORPHANS by Lyle Kessler excels on so many levels under the expert direction of Daniel Sullivan. It’s a moving, original and most unusual drama that has its moments of terror, laughter and compassion.
First produced in 1983 it retains its full emotionally draining power and the performances by Alec Baldwin as Henry, the man who would be kidnapped, Ben Foster as the prone to violence Treat, the older orphaned brother whose petty thievery allows him to help his backward yet extremely intelligent younger brother Phillip (Tom Sturridge) are nothing short of magnificent.
Phillip and Treat barely exist in a ramshackle, dingy and dirty house in North Philadelphia – another amazing set by John Lee Beatty.
In two short and swift acts at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre these two orphans – their mother has died and their father has deserted them – live on a steady diet of tuna and mayo. While Treat goes about robbing people Phillip stays indoors – afraid to go out. Treat will provide. Treat will take care of him. Or is he keeping Phillip isolated from the real world to serve his own purposes?
Phillip has a pent up energy that manifests itself in his jumping all over the furniture and up the staircase like some Spiderman or wild animal. At the same time he has a sensitive inner being just waiting to be allowed out. He speaks slowly and educates himself by watching reruns of The Price is Right on TV. He underlines words and sentences in books. He is a quick study. He comforts himself with the clothing of his mother in a closet. He is heartbreaking.
Then Treat arrives with a drunken Henry. Is he a businessman or a gangster from Chicago? And how did they really meet? Why is he carrying an attaché case full of stocks and bonds?
As their captive Henry is tied to a chair and left alone with Phillip. They talk. They bond. And when no one wants to pay a ransom for Henry the play takes a decidedly different turn which is unexpected, fun and harrowing.
Alex Baldwin has amazingly left Alec Baldwin at the stage door and makes Henry (an orphan himself) a full blown exciting character to watch. At first drunk, then offering “an encouraging squeeze of the shoulders” and then taking charge as boss and teacher.
Long after seeing this production, ORPHANS will haunt you with its tender and hurtful, hilarious and explosive and strong and real emotions that are laid bare for all to see.
Photos: Joan Marcus
Limited engagement through June 30th. DO NOT MISS ORPHANS.
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