Smile Politely

Power in action, not in words

Orphans, written by Lyle Kessler, invites the audience into the home of brothers Phillip and Treat. Treat steals to provide, and Phillip stays inside watching TV, reading books, and eating mayo. Then Treat lures a drunken gangster, Harold, into their abode and decides to hold him ransom. To Treat’s dismay, he arrives home the next day to find Harold and Phillip sharing conversation at the dinner table. Harold takes the boys under his wing, buys them trendy button ups and teaches them about the world. Treat has anger issues, so Harold rarely sends him on assignments. But he and Phillip spend a lot of time together, discussing bouillabaisse and darkness. Then Harold gets shot and the strength of the “Dead End Kids’” brotherhood is tested. Then the show ends, and I’m like, What did I just see?

I feel things. My skin has goose bumps. There was a lot of yelling. But what just happened? Why? What’s Treat’s motivation? Harold’s? What’s their history? And the questions continue.

Orphans is meant to express the intimate relationship between the two nearly feral brothers; to illustrate Treat as both a saint and a sinner as his brute force keeps Phillip in ignorance. Harold, older and more experienced, acts as a sage for the pair. The script is rooted in emotion and the senses, to be cared for by experienced actors to reach the depths of history and pain and protection.

I contribute the majority of my occasional confusion to the text itself. The actors, Lincoln Machula (as Harold), Maxwell Tomaszewski (as Phillip), and Coy Wentworth (as Treat) act the hell out of the sometimes vague dialogue. Rich characters are created, and their relationships are presented with vulnerability to the audience. It is intense. And while I didn’t know why I was riding this emotional roller coaster with these guys, I was, with my hands glued to the harness, wondering what would come next.

All three actors give heart-wrenching performances. I can’t imagine going through their process night after night. I commend them for their gusto and director Timothy O’Neal for predicting the incredible energy that builds between the players. Notably, Tomaszewski has grown immeasurably as an actor in the few roles I’ve seen him portray on the Station’s stage. Phillip is a challenging character to understand, let alone embody, and Tomaszewski makes powerful, physical choices that gave Phillip life. His body language and moments of silence speak volumes about him and the story.

Coy Wentworth also brings a baffling amount of energy to his role. Tackling the violence of Treat is no easy task, but Wentworth’s pointed decisions and the boiling power with which his actions are executed shake the Station’s walls. Finally, Lincoln Machula’s cool, patriarchal sense of wisdom balances the boy’s dynamic, making them more manageable for an audience to comprehend.

Although the relationships emerge in raw, beautiful ways, they are somewhat inconsistent. Tactics are repeated and occasional stock emotions are used, cheapening the text’s honesty. I attribute this to the challenging script, for the actors do an exceptional job of each holding their own.

The personalized aesthetic of set and costume design tell as much of the story as the dialogue. Christina Renner’s set located me within the row house of North Philadelphia. The history illustrated on the walls and through the boys’ litter uncomfortably place the viewer in an uncomfortable setting, reflecting the decay and filth in which the boys live. Thom Schnarre’s costume design is rich with dramaturgy. The carefully selected clothing enhances the story and offers individual clues about each character; their transformation under Harold’s guidance most obviously emerges in this way. Orphans’ design takes on a life of its own and guides the audience through a substantial amount of chaos.

Orphans, presented by the Celebration Theatre Company at the Station Theatre, is an intense production. The power of the players leaves the audience breathless even as the story leaves them clueless. The show has performances Wednesday through Sunday until July 19th. All performances begin at 8:00 p.m.

Prepare to be moved.

More Articles