By JOAN TADDIE
After a highly successful Season One, Theatre On the Edge opens its second season with Lyle Kessler’s dark comedy, “Orphans,” sensitively directed by Marco DiGeorge. “Orphans” premiered at the Matrix Theatre in Los Angeles in 1983. In March 1985 it was produced at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre. It made its Broadway debut at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in 2013 starring Alec Baldwin as Harold.
Set designer, Samantha DiGeorge, continues to wow the audience in this intimate 30-seat venue with her impeccable attention to detail. She creates the interior of a squalid 1989 Philadelphia rowhouse through the art of hyperrealism, where the furniture, rugs, wallpaper, costumes and props are all authentic to the location and the time period, down to the labels on the Hellmann’s mayo jars and the Star-kist tuna cans. The set lends itself to the feeling of abandonment and emptiness.
It is in this setting, during the 20 minute pre-show (don’t miss this), that we are introduced to Phillip (Adam Minossora) who is developmentally disabled with an Autism spectrum disorder. He is consuming a tuna fish sandwich and eats the mayonnaise with a spoon right out of the jar. Minossora masterfully creates a fascinating character by merely allowing us to watch Phillip go through his day. With limited dialogue, Minossora’s facial expressions and his physical interaction with his environment establish who he is and the challenges he faces.As the play begins, Phillip runs into a closet filled with his dead mother’s clothes as his older brother and caretaker, Treat (Zack Roundy), comes home with the loot from his day of robbing people at knifepoint. The brothers are orphans, and robbery is how Treat provides housing and the daily tuna fish and mayonnaise for his brother. Treat, violent and unpredictable, keeps Phillip from leaving the safety of the house by telling him wild and terrifying tales about the dangers outside, including the risks of even breathing the air beyond the door and windows. (“I’m allergic to lots of stuff. I will hold my breath so I don’t breathe in any deadly pollen.”) Phillip, with his limited mental capacity, gets all his information about the world from watching TV, especially The Price Is Right.
All this changes for the brothers when Treat kidnaps a drunken Harold (Allan Whitehead), brings him home, and holds him for ransom. Harold is a wealthy Chicago businessman with a shadowy past. He sees himself in the two brothers; orphaned and left to survive on their own, just like the “Dead End Kids.” (“You’re a Dead End Kid. I know one when I see one.”) Harold decides to “adopt” the boys and replace the father that deserted Treat and Phillip when they were kids. (“This is quite the tragic situation I’ve walked into.”)
Zack Roundy delivers another exceptional performance as Treat. His cruelty to Phillip at the beginning of the play paints his character as heartless and manipulative. In his most violent scenes, Roundy’s body becomes tense and tight and his fingers twitch as his eyes become dark and riveting. But, by the end of the play we witness the real Treat in a heart-stopping performance of a sobbing, abandoned lost soul; a classic tragic figure. (“I never touched his hand before.”)
Allan Whitehead brings the much needed humor and compassion to the play with his first-rate performance as Harold. Whitehead skillfully transitions from a sloppy, drunken businessman at the beginning of the play to a “father” who cares for the brothers, teaches them about life outside the house, and sometimes disciplines them by talking about what they did wrong rather than by violence. Two wonderful moments for Whitehead are when Harold gives Phillip a promised gift of loafers because Phillip cannot learn how to tie his shoes, and when Harold gives Phillip a map of Philadelphia. (“Can I keep it? I know where I am!”)“Orphans” is a tight, ensemble piece where everything works to pull the audience into the lives of these three characters and makes you care about what happens to them. Even the sound design becomes important because the TV shows and the lyrics of the music clips give the audience clues to what the characters are feeling and responding to. (“In the eyes of wounded children…”)
Director Marco DiGeorge has put together an outstanding cast and crew who deliver nothing but excellence. This play will touch your heart. I had a hard time leaving my seat at the end of the production. The emotion in the last scene will leave you breathless.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “ORPHANS” runs through Nov. 26 at Theater on the Edge, 5542 Hansel Ave, Orlando, FL. Tickets are $22 and $26. Seating limited. Visit TheaterOnTheEdge.org.