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Orphan Review

‘Orphans’ tells moving tale of redemption



“Orphans,” on stage through Oct. 12 at Cape Rep Theatre Company, is an award-winning drama that is deep and deeply moving. Lyle Kessler’s two act, two-hour play requires an enormous amount of effort on the part of the three-member cast. Brian McNeany, Shawn O’Neil and Tom Wolfson are more than up to the task. They are simply superb onstage.

On one level, “Orphans” is a family story. Treat, a young tough in his early 20s perhaps, has been left to look after younger brother Phillip after the death of their mother some years before. The way Treat goes about this huge

responsibility is to shut out the world beyond their North Philadelphia row house, keeping Phillip intellectually and physically tied to his older brother. Phillip is not allowed to leave the house – based on a previous physical illness

that occurred when he was outside (perhaps an asthma or a panic attack) – and he is left supposedly unable to read or make much sense of the world. Treat supports their shabby lifestyle through mugging and petty theft.

Into their lives comes Harold, a well-groomed and thoughtful man, perhaps an executive or mobster – he really could be either one – whom Treat brings home drunk one night with the intention of robbing. But when he finds stocks and bonds in Harold’s briefcase, Treat decides that kidnapping and ransom will bring in more income.

This is where the play turns on its head, and what happens next transforms both brothers so that just two weeks later, Treat has lost his grip on his brother’s life, Phillip has made his first tentative steps into the outside world, and Harold – well, Harold has been redeemed in a way that leaves the viewer wondering just how much to read into his character.

An orphan himself, Harold is, on one level, drawn to the young men because they are, like he was, much in need of what he calls “an encouraging squeeze.” But on another level, Harold plays a much larger role, and the issue of

redemption suggests something we all need at some time in our lives. Call it the intercession of a higher power, if you will.

McNeany, O’Neil and Wolfson pull off this charged play with humor and vivid emotion. There is a complex physicality to the play that they also handle well.

Underpinning the play are two other strong suits: James P. Byrne’s set, which so carefully illustrates how people live at various stages of their lives, and the flow of recorded music by jazz guitar great Pat Metheny and keyboardist Lyle

Mays, music that curls itself around the stage during brief interludes between scenes and acts. The music is not part of the play, but it sets a tone of change and shifting images that contributes to the production of “Orphans.”

Directed by Cara Caldwell Watson, “Orphans” is a great play and a refreshing change from the oft-repeated, usual choices of our local theater companies. For that reason, and many more, it should not be missed.

(Published: September 21, 2002)
Copyright © 2002 Cape Cod Times. All rights reserved.