Orphans May01

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Orphans

A Dynamite Performance Keeps Us Riveted in a Play That Forces Us to Suspend All Reality

Orphans
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

A stand-out performance by Tom Sturridge highlights the electrifying and terrifying Broadway revival of Lyle Kessler’s dark and absurdest play Orphans, also starring Alec Baldwin (“30 Rock”) and Ben Foster.

Older brother Treat (Foster) earns a living as a petty thief to take care of brother Phillip (Sturridge) who inhabits his own autistic word, where tuna fish and a bowl of mayonnaise are the meals of the day — every day — and where contact with the outside world is feared as potentially lethal. Phillip leaps around the furniture and occasionally looks out the window to observe passers by or marvels at the woman’s high heel he secrets away.

orphansOne day, Treat decides to up the stakes from mugging to kidnapping when he encounters well–to-do businessman Harold (Baldwin). He and Phillip tie him up in their dilapidated north Philadelphia home (John Lee Beatty, set design) and prepare to collect a handsome ransom. The tables are turned, however, when Harold frees himself, but decides to stay. He befriends Phillip and hires the inept Treat as his body guard. Suddenly roles reverse as Treat’s confidence deserts him and Phillip discovers that he can do a lot more than he thought — especially those things Treat has been telling him he couldn’t do all these years — with Harold’s help.

The play itself is bizarre, bringing to mind Martin McDonagh’s A Behanding in Spokane. To enjoy these works, you have to check reality and all reasoning at the door or you will spend all of your time thinking, “That would never happen,” or “That doesn’t make sense.” If you are willing to do that here, you’ll allow Kessler some room to explore human nature and relationships.

The biggest takeaway from this production, however, is Sturridge’s dynamite performance (he has been nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play and the play is up for best revival). His portrayal is at once physical, energetic, calm and gentle. With each gesture or mimic of another character, he takes the portrait to a deeper level. It’s one of the most gripping and engrossing performances I have seen on stage in a while, even more so because he upstages Hollywood badboy Baldwin, the box-office draw for the show. Foster could be completely lost up there, but the steady direction of Daniel Sullivan keeps him in play.

Orphans plays at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th St., NYC through June 30. Tickets and info: http://www.orphansonbroadway.com/.

This Show Contains:
— Language
— God’s name taken in vain

Lauren Yarger is Executive Director/Producer with Masterwork Productions, Inc. She is a freelance writer and member of the Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the CT SPJ, the Connecticut Critics Circle, Christians in Theatre Arts, the Episcopal Actors Guild and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Keep up with her theatre reviews atReflections in the Light.