Smile Politely

An absence of love

The second show of the Celebration Company at the Station Theatre’s summer season opens this Thursday. The adventurous little company in Urbana will present Orphans, written by Lyle Kessler and directed by recent Big Easy Award Winner Timothy O’Neal. The play stars Lincoln Machula as Harold, Maxwell Tomaszewski as Phillip, and Coy Benning Wentworth as Treat. Orphans, set in North Philadelphia, tells the story of two adult, orphaned brothers. Treat provides for his younger brother, Phillip, by committing petty crimes. Treat maintains control over Phillip, until one day he decides to kidnap Harold, who turns the table on them both. I had the pleasure of talking with O’Neal about this dark and engaging play.

Smile Politely: What drew you to the script?

Timothy O’Neal: After having read the script, I was drawn to the darkness; but, on the flip side of the coin, are the comedic overtures Kessler writes into the script. So many plays deal with the varying aspects of love, and it was nice to find one that deals with an absence of love that is filled in by the end but doesn’t force two disparate characters to find some common ground and come out happy in the resolution.

SP: What would you say are the overarching themes of the play?

O’Neal: Betrayal, loss, acceptance, parental love, fraternal love. Many primal themes come out of the show’s fairly primal characters.

SP: What can viewers expect when they come to see the show? 

O’Neal: A fantastic set by Christina Renner, fabulous costumes by Thom Schnarre (a Smile Politely contributor), spectacular lighting by Jesse Folks, and a tremendous cast of Lincoln Machula, Max Tomaszewski, and Coy Wentworth. On stage, they’ll hopefully see a journey of three different people on their own paths that will make you laugh, cry, and think.

Smile Politely: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in rehearsals? 

O’Neal: Finding some of the comedy within the piece. It’s a tightrope walk in finding the honesty in the levity and then drastic switch to downright frightening violence.  You’re tempted to recommend the actors play tactics that bring forth the anger and aggression, but you have to remember that no one is just rage. We’re a melting pot of emotion, if you will, and every ingredient makes the show better.

SP: Your recent production of Orestes 2.0 won the Big Easy Award for Best University Production. Are there any connections between Orestes 2.0 and Orphans 

O’Neal: This play and Orestes 2.0 couldn’t really be any farther from each other stylistically. Although adapted for the modern world, Orestes 2.0 still comes with the trappings of the Ancient Greek methods: violence off-stage, various people who try to guide the main characters through moralistic metaphor, a god or gods coming down from on high to resolve everything (deus ex machina), amongst others.  Orphans is a very intimate piece with no verbose guides, violence completely on-stage, and broken human characters forced to resolve everything and most unsatisfactorily. That is not to say that the themes of family and love don’t transcend time. Although the reasons and circumstances couldn’t be farther from each other, the same basic principles remain. I love both plays equally for their faults and merits and find joy in tackling their wildly different ways.


Orphans will open on Thursday, July 3rd, at 8 p.m. The show runs from July 3-19, with no performance on July 4th. Reservations can be made online or by calling 217-384-4000. Tickets are $10 on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, and $15 on Friday and Saturdays.

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