Theater Review - Orphans (NY)

Lyle Kessler’s “Orphans” is a brilliant playset in a ramshackle house in North Philadelphia in the   “not-too-distant-past.” It last played in NY Off  Broadway in 1986. It was also made into a film. Now you have a chance to see it on Broadway directed briskly by Daniel Sullivan with Alec Baldwin, Ben Foster and Tom Sturridge.  Baldwin as Harold and Foster as Treat are terrific, but Sturridge, who is an English actor known for films like “Vanity Fair,” “Being Julia” and “The Boat that Rocked,” is so fantastically beguiling in the role of Phillip, he is sure to win every award possible.

Cat-like, he springs across banisters, tables, chairs and a sofa as if he were flying. Not only that but he portrays a sensitive young man, emotionally stunted, an orphan, who has not been allowed to leave his home since he was a child. For lunch he eats only tuna and Hellman’s mayo.  When frightened, he climbs into a closet filled with his mother’s coats.  Although he peers through the windows to see the people outside, he has been convinced by his older brother Treat that he is allergic to all manner of grasses and trees, and that he will die if he ventures through the front door.

Treat is a thief with a terrible temper, who carts home his loot every night. Into this strange and frightening atmosphere Treat brings Harold, a man who appears to be a man of some substance; he is as drunk as a skunk. Before he can awake from his stupor, Treat ties him up like a trussed turkey.  When he awakes, instead of being upset by this, Harold identifies himself as a fellow orphan, a successful financier, who will hire Treat as his sidekick and teach the two boys the finer things in life.  Alec Baldwin is compelling and charming in the role, promising a life for these fellows that they could never imagine.

In the hands of set designer John Lee Beatty, lighting by Pat Collins, and costumes by Jess Goldstein, the transformation in the second act is amazing. The house is painted and furnished and the men are polished and are dressed in fine clothes.  Phillip loves Harold and has even left the house for a walk in air with him! But there is danger always lurking. Treat’s explosive temper cannot be controlled and he resents Harold.  After they figure out that Harold may be on the lam, the end is very sad and yet hopeful.  Phillip escapes searching for a better life. Less than two hours with one intermission, “Orphans” is an exciting study of human nature.



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