Midtown Production of “Orphans” Strikes Deep

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Robin Burke as Harold

ORPHANS, the play directed by J.C. Conway and performing at Midtown Productions this month, was first produced in New York in 1985. The play is disturbing and thought-provoking, and the performances of this three-man cast run the spectrum from OK to terrific.

Lyle Kessler’s drama follows a pair of brothers living hand-to-mouth in Philadelphia. Treat, the older brother, supports them both by small-time burglaries. He is volatile and excruciatingly overprotective of the naïve and emotionally slow Phillip. The two were orphaned by their mother and abandoned by their father in childhood, and both still suffer hourly from the effects.

This tenuous existence is interrupted by Harold, a middle-aged man whose drunken appearance sends all three on a journey of discovery—by forming a strange nuclear family of a sort.

This is not a new premise, but the characters here push the narrative beyond the made-for-TV movie into a dangerous place with many peculiar ambiguities, tense moments, and powerful results.

John Agular and Bryan Roberts

As a group, the cast offers some fine ensemble work—and John Agular, as the simple Phillip, has some touching moments—but the evening belongs to Robin Burke (Harold) whose control of the room was at the same time avuncular and mysterious. The strength of his performance is the difference between ordinary and memorable.

The scene in which he is introduced in a drunken stupor, is itself worth the price of admission—and he maintains this accuracy throughout.

Bryan Roberts has some difficulty capturing the nuances of the struggle between Treat’s macho outside and the needy, frightened little boy inside—an admittedly difficult job for even an experienced actor. Director Conway, set designer Ryan Ahlert and costumer Kristen Bushey have created a small world worth visiting.

Orphans plays at the Charleston Acting Studio November 15, 16 & 17 at 8:00 P.M.

Acknowledgments: photos by Nancy Santos.

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It is with life as it is with art: the deeper one penetrates, the broader the view.                   
~ Johann Goethe