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'Orphans,' Starring Alec Baldwin Opens On Broadway: REVIEW



Lyle Kessler’s 1983 play Orphans opened last Thursday at the Schoenfeld Theatre, making its Broadway debut in a powerfully charged production starring Alec Baldwin, Ben Foster and Tom Sturridge. A hybrid sort of drama built on contrivances yet grounded in emotional truths, the play becomes a vehicle for three outstanding star performances under Daniel Sullivan's nimble and dynamic direction.

Orphans2Two orphaned adult brothers still living in their parents’ decaying house on the north side of Philadelphia, Treat and Philip have been fending for themselves since they were children. Foster plays Treat, who has supported himself and his brother as a petty thief, while keeping Philip (Sturridge) sheltered at home in an abbreviated state of development. Though Philip can’t read and doesn’t leave the house, he nurses his curiosity by watching TV or passersby, and underlining words in the daily newspaper.

Treat kidnaps Harold (Baldwin), who unbeknownst to him is not only a mobster but also a fellow orphan. Tables turn when Harold quickly escapes and offers a hand of support (and an encouraging shoulder squeeze) to both boys, effectively threatening Treat’s position as household father figure.

Baldwin is a natural fit for Harold, exuding the particular brand of polished panache for which he's famous. Foster — who replaced Shia LaBeouf after the star stepped off the production shortly into rehearsal, stirring up a Twitter sh*t storm on his way out — is fantastic as Treat, seething with resentful rage while exercising a sadistic protective grip on his brother.

Orphans1But Sturridge’s remarkable performance as Philip is definitely the production’s most affecting and attention-grabbing. Though both brothers experience profound mental and emotional transformations by the play’s end, Philip has farther to travel. Sturridge brings a careful sensitivity to his every action, and traverses every inch of designer John Lee Beatty’s set with a bounding, agile grace.

Kessler’s play, though written with three roles tailor-made to showcase actor prowess, hangs upon a strangely stylized conceit that doesn’t ultimately add up to a wholly satisfying drama. That Treat just happens to kidnap a fellow orphan criminal is only one of several question marks looming in the play’s framework.

But Sullivan elicits fine performances from each of the three actors, and finesses some of the story’s more incredulous moments with a sure hand. Despite the engineered quality of Kessler’s conclusion, Sullivan’s production moves with a stirring momentum that can’t help but make an impact. 

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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)


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  1. Is Harold really an orphan, or is he just claiming to be an orphan to get leverage with Treat?

    Posted by: Roscoe | Apr 23, 2013 2:02:31 PM

  2. two hot guys in the show and you waste picture space on Alec Baldwin!

    Posted by: Homo Genius | Apr 23, 2013 2:40:55 PM

  3. I saw an amazing production of Orphans at the Old Globe a million years ago. Perhaps it was just in that version, but there was a LOT of homo-erotic tension between the two brothers.

    I still remember an intense scene where the older brother, hot with anger jumps on top of, straddles and pins the younger brother who was dressed only in tighty-whities.

    If I recall while he holding him down the older brother asserts his dominance by forcing the younger brother to tell him he is in charge or something to that effect.

    In the tiny black box you could smell the sweat and fear and needless to say, yes it was an Insta-boner moment.

    Posted by: bubba | Apr 23, 2013 3:28:01 PM

  4. @HG
    EAT IT. Alec Baldwin has more hot in one finger than those two will ever muster in their entire lives combined.

    Posted by: Jerry | Apr 23, 2013 3:30:48 PM

  5. Luved the 1987 film version with Matthew Modine, Kevin Anderson, and Albert Finney. And Ben Foster in anything he does though I wish he'd stop doing so many sinister roles. His performance in "The Messenger" is heartbreaking.

    Posted by: Michael Bedwell | Apr 23, 2013 3:51:58 PM

  6. Saw it during previews. It was just ok.

    Posted by: Name: | Apr 23, 2013 5:49:32 PM

  7. I first saw Ben Foster in a couple of episodes of My Name Is Earl. Powerful, funny, HOT!

    Posted by: Tatts | Apr 23, 2013 9:04:22 PM

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