Orphans | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader


ORPHANS, Wing & Groove Theatre. With its small cast, uncomplicated set requirements, ample opportunities for stage combat, and ever popular theme--the dissolution of the American nuclear family--Lyle Kessler's play is a favorite among small fledgling theater companies, revived nearly as often as its cousin, Sam Shepard's True West. Kessler's dark comedy features orphaned brothers Treat and Phillip, who essentially become surrogate sons to Harold, the shady businessman Treat had sought to rob; the play provides an excellent snapshot of the gritty, visceral Chicago style of theater made popular 15 to 20 years ago. On the other hand, it's less a timeless classic than a time capsule, and the way each character's role in the first act switches to its opposite in the second is all too formulaic. Still, Orphans does offer a fairly exhilarating if not altogether intellectually stimulating two hours of theater.

Under Stephanie McCanles's direction, Wing & Groove provides a faithful but ultimately more imitative than inspired interpretation. As the menacing, thuggish, yet pathetically needy Treat, Jamie Kelsey delivers his lines with appropriate rage, but his contrived toughness rarely convinces. Allen Hope Sermonia and B.F. Helman fare somewhat better as the agoraphobic Phillip and the compassionate yet stern father figure Harold, and Sermonia mines his character's wide-eyed naivete for maximum comic effect. But if there are few wrong notes here, there are few electrifying ones either: this is a by-the-numbers production of a by-the-numbers play that doesn't beg to be revived again anytime soon.

--Adam Langer

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