Orphans by Lyle Kessler

Dates and Venue 19 - 28 June 2008 @ 8pm; matinees Sat and Sun @ 2pm | Firehall Arts Centre, 280 E Cordova St.

Director Stephen Drover Costume Designer Jacqueline Becher Set Designer Kerrri Norris

Reviewer John Jane

I don’t think that I have ever seen the Firehall Arts Centre stage looking so busy. Kerry Norris’s set resembles a neighbourhood garage sale; an assortment of junk in the form of worn-out minor appliances, broken lamp shades and even garden hose is aimlessly spread around the stage floor. The scene is obviously intended to evoke chaos.

Orphans is a black comedy involving a power struggle between two brothers and an outsider who changes their lives forever. Treat and Phillip were orphaned in their childhood when abandoned by their father and then left to fend for themselves when their mother died.

Phillip (played with a charming comic bent by Michael Rinaldi) is a servile agoraphobic who watches television all day in torn pajamas. Treat is the irascible older brother with a hair-trigger temper who desperately needs to be in total control. Treat doesn’t want Phillip to educate himself and fuels his paranoia of the outdoors to maintain his dominance. Treat is also a petty thief, but clearly not a very discriminating one.

When he returns to their Philadelphia home one evening with an inebriated Harold, a sharply-dressed businessman with a briefcase full of stock bonds, the brothers’ lives are changed for the better. Harold (smoothly portrayed by Michael Charrois) was also an orphan, but is now a career criminal on the run from the mob in Chicago, who needs a place to lie low for a while.

Treat’s initial scheme is to hold Harold hostage in an attempt to extort a ransom for his release. Harold however, is far too sophisticated to succumb to Treat’s clumsy handling of the plan and takes over control of the household.

The second act sees the domestic chaos transformed to order and the brothers’ fixed diet of StarkistTM tuna replaced by Harold’s Bouillabaisse. Predictably, Treat and Phillip’s positions of power also change by the end of the play.

Andrew McNee, playing older brother Treat, has the most work to do in showing vulnerability behind the tough guy swagger. He delivers a very physical performance that is sometimes a little too manic for the Firehall’s intimate performance space.

Director Stephen Drover shows remarkable dexterity in his handling of Lyle Kessler’s powerful observation of sibling discord.

Orphans runs at the Firehall Arts Centre until 28 June. Some of the language is quite explicit, but for lovers of hard-hitting theatre this might the best thing in town.

© 2008 John Jane