Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Building a Family With Orphans

It's a shame that Shia LaBeouf added so much drama around the revival of the Broadway play Orphans by Lyle Kessler, because seeing it the night it was nominated for a Tony award for Best Revival - I was very taken with it. I had seen the movie, but really couldn't recall anything about the family drama. Two adult brothers living parentless in a house as the older Treat attempts to care for the younger Philip who is mentally challenged. Treat is a bubbling cauldron of anger and brings home an older gentleman from a bar and attempts to hold him for ransom. But even the older gentleman Harold isn't as it seems.

This is a theme throughout Kessler's work: each character is different from what we first think of them - all three having some sort of dysfunction that challenges who they are and how they interact with the world. I love to write about families: those we are born into and those we choose - and this play fits right into that genre.

I think one of the best things that may have come out of Shia LaBeouf not getting along with Alec Baldwin who plays Harold is that Ben Foster gives such a natural, yet layered approach to Treat. Some reviewers have felt he lacks a killer instinct, but there is something in his downplaying of the role...holding that rage underneath that I loved. He shows a great range of emotions throughout the show and I say kudos to him for walking in later than the others and taking this on.

The breakout of the night is Tony nominated Tom Sturridge. In a performance that reminded me of Leonardo DiCaprio in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape", he flies around the room jumping from furniture piece to stairs; almost climbing the walls at times. He is gentle, heartwarming and never breaks character. I found myself watching him when he wasn't the focus and he was always in his 'world' as someone with a disability would be. 

The two brothers have a great connection on stage and I found myself rooting for them and feeling the strain that Treat has for caring for his brother; even if it means lying to him.

And then Alec Baldwin enters the stage. I'm a huge fan of Baldwin. I'm even a fan with the
media tears him a part for his real life drama played out in tabloids. I love when he is on SNL and I think he is very funny. But this play shouldn't be a sitcom. Yes, there should be humor in life - but Baldwin's delivery always reads like an SNL sketch and has no heart or truth to it. The only thing I recall from the movie version of this play was Albert Finney: Baldwin was missing that fatherly feel the two brothers desperate need to give this piece it's heart. He also never got to a place of danger that is also needed to keep Treat on edge. As the character that needs to drive so much of the story along, it just felt flat to me. We could simply blame an actor or we could question if director Daniel Sullivan had decided on the tone of the piece prior to the offstage fireworks and thought how to place these three actors in the same play.

Still, the two younger men rise above and manage to pull out some pretty moving moments. The huge set of John Lee Beatty adds to the melancholy the brothers share in this mammoth home and the lighting and sound also greatly added to the evening. 

If nothing else, it definitely made me want to look up the film and watch it again. 


  1. I have to wonder if some of the drama surrounding the play and Shia LaBeouf wasn't contrived to garner publicity and ticket sales.

    1. In this day & age: you never know. "Any press is good press." :-)