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Orphans' Brother Love on Broadway

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In North Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, two young men live in a rundown house, Phillip, an agile shut-in, and Treat, a menacing low-level thief, in Lyle Kessler's Orphans at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater. The play's first time on Broadway, it will be interesting to see how the Tony Award committee will categorize this testosterone-ridden three-hander, as this fine production is sure to contend for top prizes. The third character, a Chicago businessman, Harold, enters the ménage: at first a willing caller wanting another drink, he becomes a kidnap victim when Treat smells the opportunity for quick cash. Soon a power shift: The rope bound Harold, with a nod to Houdini, frees himself and takes on a parental role.

Here director Daniel Sullivan's choices for these macho types veer feminine. Phillip, obsessed with a single red patent pump, eats StarKist tuna mixed with copious amounts of Hellmann's mayo, and watches The Price is Right. A brutal control freak, Treat keeps Phillip prisoner, a monkey leaping about in a jungle gym of tattered furnishings. Like the mysterious stranger who becomes a catalyst of change suggested in a Twain volume hidden in couch cushions, Harold offers the needy boys a reassuring pat on the shoulder, fresh suits and pale yellow loafers. Cooking corned beef and cabbage for them, he becomes a nurturing presence in this makeshift family. More than the '80s original off-Broadway Orphans and other more violent productions that followed, in this version, perhaps following the Zeitgeist, the men go soft.

The success of Orphans owes much to the three actors: Tom Sturridge, recently Carlo Marx in the On the Road film, has the showy role as Phillip, he wears his limp hair half up in a tight knot. Facile physically, he also has to portray a feral half-wit that comes to be seen as a survival pose. For Ben Foster, a movie actor of note, in The Messenger, 3:10 to Yuma, the upcoming Kill Your Darlings, Treat is Foster's first onstage role since school. He deftly moves from threatening to vulnerable, a thug vying for daddy's love. Alec Baldwin, crisp white shirt bloused out to suggest bloat, offers his easy likeability and familiarity to his role as Harold. In the play's penultimate image, one character curls fetus-like to a corpse. The birthing is complete.

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