Friday, April 19, 2013

So, How About Those Orphans?

Orphans was one of the most talked about shows of the season before it even started previews because of the firing of Shia LaBeouf and his e-mail-posting frenzy on Twitter. It seemed like the production was doomed, so I was surprised by how quickly I forgot about the backstage drama watching Lyle Kessler's engrossing play, which opened last night at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus
The play begins with the limber Tom Sturridge jumping across furniture in a dilapidated house (designed by the always on point John Lee Beatty) as loud music plays. (I immediately checked my Playbill after the show for the composer and was annoyed at myself for not guessing that the faux-rock score was Tom Kitt's.) Sturridge is playing the shut-in Phillip, waiting for his brother Treat (Ben Foster, LaBeouf's replacement) to come home from committing petty crimes to support them. One night, Treat brings home Harold (Alec Baldwin) and the brothers decide to kidnap him for ransom, but Harold soon becomes less of a hostage and more of a father figure.

I was unfamiliar with the 30-year-old play, getting its first Broadway production directed by Daniel Sullivan. Despite the surreal quality, the story is actually quite moving. It is at its heart about the need for family.

Foster is making a memorable Broadway debut, balancing the menace and hurt-little-boy nature of his character. Baldwin is appropriately cast as a comical and sophisticated mentor, but is actually the least interesting of the three. Sturridge, also in his Broadway debut, has the showiest and award bait-iest role, but he is mesmerizing in his physicality and so sweetly innocent that you can't help but be drawn to him. Perhaps most impressively, there is not even a trace of his English accent. It may just be one of the most fascinating performances of the season.

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