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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Gerald Schoenfeld


  Tom Sturridge, Ben Foster and Alec Baldwin/ Ph: Joan Marcus

Even a dedicated theatergoer could be forgiven for thinking that Lyle Kessler’s three-actor drama Orphans, which is now receiving its Broadway premiere in a production that has been the target of ongoing tabloid gossip, was actually a new play.

Orphans premiered 30 years ago in Los Angeles with a cast that included Joe Pantoliano, who went on to play Ralph Cifaretto on the HBO series The Sopranos. Two years later, it was produced at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company (which has a reputation for doing violent contemporary dramas) with John Mahoney, who is now best remembered as Martin Crane on the TV sitcom Frasier. That production later received a commercial Off-Broadway run. There is also a little-known 1987 film version with Albert Finney. Al Pacino did the play in Los Angeles in 2005 and it was speculated that he wanted to bring it to Broadway. When that didn’t happen, Alec Baldwin reportedly seized the opportunity to do it himself.

Orphans observes Treat (Ben Foster) and Philip (Tom Sturridge), a pair of adult brothers living in a dilapidated row house in Philadelphia. While Treat makes a living as a petty thief, he attempts to keep Philip safe by forcing him to stay home all day. Philip is also uneducated to the point of being illiterate.

One day, Treat brings home the inebriated Harold (Baldwin), who Treat believes may be a powerful businessman that could be kidnapped at a high ransom. Philip is actually a powerful gangster who manages to free himself after having been tied up. But the strangely chipper Philip, who was an orphan himself, decides to become a surrogate father to the boys. Pretty soon the house is spruced up and Treat is serving as Philip’s assistant.

Film actor Shia LaBeouf, who was let go by the show’s producers during rehearsals for what appears to have been erratic and possibly even violent behavior, fired back by posting emails exchanged between him and his fellow cast member and director Dan Sullivan on Twitter. He stole attention again by attending the show’s first preview, sitting in the front row and leading a standing ovation at curtain call.

Kessler’s play attempts to subvert the traditional family drama by combining it with the raw, brutal realism of Sam Shepard and the absurdist logic of Harold Pinter. Although intriguing at first, it eventually runs out of steam and inspiration.

Under Sullivan’s tight direction, all three cast members deliver tremendous performances with ensemble unity. It also can’t be denied that Baldwin’s buoyant Harold is reminiscent of the outsized persona of Jack Donaghy on 30 Rock. However, one suspects that the play would have an even greater impact in a smaller, flexible Off-Broadway space, like perhaps the Barrow Street Theatre, that could more powerfully depict its claustrophobic atmosphere and squalid setting. 


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