OpenStage provides riveting theatre with “Orphans”.

OrphansDysfunctional Brothers Kidnap a Businessman for Whom No One Will Pay Ransom

Reviewed by Tom Jones
April 17, 2016

Treat and Phillip are adult dysfunctional brothers, living in a run-down area of Philadelphia. Their father abandoned them, and their mother has died. Treat has taken the role of family protector, going out each day to rob and steal. He has convinced his younger, mentally-challenged brother that he must never leave the house. As a result, Phillip spends his days either in the closet where his mother’s clothes were left, or watching “The Price is Right” on television in his upstairs bedroom. He is completely at the mental and physical mercy of his brother. He has no idea what it is like to go outside, and has never even learned to tie his shoes. He has, however, been teaching himself to read and has some books and newspaper stashed in secret places around the house, hoping Treat will not find them.

Dan Muth as Phillip in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Orphans by Lyle Kessler. Photography by Steve Finnestead Photography
Dan Muth as Phillip in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Orphans by Lyle Kessler. Photography by Steve Finnestead Photography

One evening Treat brings home Harold, a drunk Chicago businessman, he has picked up in a local bar. Harold is carrying lots of cash, and a briefcase stuffed with financial offerings. The financial possibilities appear to be endless, so Treat decides to kidnap him – tying him up and putting tape across his mouth – leaving him for Phillip to watch, while Treat goes out to negotiate ransom for his new acquaintance.

It isn’t as easy as it looks. As was the case years ago in O’Henry’s wild “The Ransom of Red Chief,” the tables are turned. Harold comes across as being absolutely fearless, bewildering the vicious Treat with his non-responsive approach to Treat’s threats. Harold takes charge of the “family,” offering Treat a job to actually protect him, and giving encouragement to the wide-eyed Phillip. He tries to teach Treat how to better handle himself in public, as outbursts of anger should not be allowed.

Steven P. Sickles as Harold in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Orphans by Lyle Kessler. Photography by Steve Finnestead Photography
Steven P. Sickles as Harold in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Orphans by Lyle Kessler. Photography by Steve Finnestead Photography

The OpenStage cast is a wonder. Hath Howes portrays Treat; whose violent outbursts are so real that the audience itself feels threatened. Dan Muth is flawless as the simple Phlliip who wants only to be loved. Steven P. Sickles is convincing as the mysterious Chicago Businessman who apparently is absolutely fearless. Chemistry between the three is eerie, as if we are actually in the company of three real and very disparate characters. With the absence of their father, Treat and Phillip are now orphans. Harold was raised in an orphanage, learning that the basic cry of all orphans is “mother.”

The show is billed as a comedy. “Tis not.” Playwright Lyle Kessler’s script does include some very clever observations, but the evening is of intense suspense – wondering just what is going to happen next.

Heath Howes as Treat in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Orphans by Lyle Kessler. Photography by Steve Finnestead Photography
Heath Howes as Treat in OpenStage Theatre’s production of Orphans by Lyle Kessler. Photography by Steve Finnestead Photography

The play has been around more than 30 years. It premiered in Los Angeles in 1983, was at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre in 1985, and premiered Off-Broadway in New York where it ran from May to January that year with the Chicago cast. The play finally reached New York’s Broadway in 2013 starring Alex Baldwin as Harold. It received two tony Award Nominations, but did not find public support, running for only 37 performances. Critics around the world have been fascinated by this shocking and profane tale, but it has not yet received great support from the public.

Peter Anthony directed and created the scenic design and sound for the OpenStage production. I found the first act to be enormously interesting, and even a tad scary. The second act results in some frightening outburst, themed with the need for family security. Late in the second act is an emotional scene between the two brothers and Harold. Unfortunately, I could not understand much of what was said in that pivotal scene. At the show’s conclusion, I asked persons sitting near to me if they could explain that scene’s dialog, and they were in the same situation as me – very interested, but a bit bewildered.

OpenStage has long been admired as providing excellent theatre, often with productions that have not been seen previously in Northern Colorado. The company is a master of comedic farce. Their terrific “Noises Off” a few years ago remains as one of my all-time stage delights. Their moving the locale of “Romeo and Juliet” a season or two ago resulted in one of my favorite Shakespearean performances. “Orphans” is not of that caliber, but is a very interesting evening of theatre. Heath Howes, Dan Muth, and Steven P. Sickles are a terrific trio of talent.

“Orphans”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production, on the Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center.
417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins.
When: Through April 20, 2016
Tickets: 970/221-6730
For more information:  www.lctix.com

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