DRAMA-LOGUE, Sept. 1-7, 1983
by Polly Warfield
Who was that masked man? We may well
wonder as the mysterious, dedicated benefactor of "Dead End Kids"
and orphans swings out the door with only his briefcase in his hand
to disappear forever down a nondescript North Philadelphia street.
For Harold is the Lone Ranger, Zorro, Superman, even maybe (dare we
say it?) a surrogate of Jesus Christ. The lives he touches and
redeems are forever altered. It is Harold, played to stunning
perfection by Lane Smith, who lifts Lyle Kessler's play into
joyousness and makes it the gem it is.
The play is not to be taken totally realistically
despite its modern idiom; it is part fantasy, fable, old-fashioned
fairytale. Its sentiment is Gene Stratton Porter and Horatio Alger Jr.
updated. It is cracking good entertainment, comedy and suspense. It is
also metaphysical and allegorical. It's easy enough to point out flaws of
contrivance and credibility, such as where did sequestered Phillip (shades
of Cinderella) get that stiletto-heeled red satin slipper he so cherishes?
Since he and delinquent elder brother Treat are orphans of the storm, who
took care of this presumably helpless kid when Treat was in detention
hall? What use could a youth apparently so retarded make of a contraband,
concealed Webster's Collegiate and what interest would he have in
multi-syllable words? And why can't he figure out how to get into those
splendid yellow loafers Harold buys him when (even though he can't tie the
laces) he can get into his old sneakers? I will not cavil at such
contrivances for they are theatrically effective ways of making legitimate
points. And the points they make are well worth making.
Orphans is given the kind of lustrous, polished
production we have come to expect of Joseph Stern, who is gaining the
reputation of a flair for infallibility. The cast is well-chosen,
wonderful and admirably differentiated, and John Lehne's expert direction
establishes its intrinsic rhythm while establishing Lehne in the forefront
among Los Angeles directors. Paul Lieber's sharp, tough, street-smart
Treat is volatile and dangerous as a hand grenade. His kind of
retardation, Harold shows us, is more grievous than Phillip's, and both
are a matter of environment and deprivation. Joe Pantollano's gentle,
timid Phillip is irresistible with the sweet, eager to please innocence of
childhood. Down to his twisted smile and raspy voice with its occasional
spurts of explosive volume, Lane Smith is marvelously right for ex-orphan,
self-made millionaire, rough-cut hero Harold, pure in heart though
associate of gangsters and thugs. The strength and steel of his intellect
and maleness are enriched into wondrous treasure by his extraordinary
(superhuman?) tenderness and love. With his power and need to nurture,
forgive, redeem "dead end kids" he embodies the essence of fatherhood,
just when we might have been in danger of doubting its existence, and
makes it the emotional equal of motherhood, which has received a much
better press. Harold is gratifyingly infallible, invincible, indomitable,
apparently indestructible and good, as opposed to what we've seen
too much of lately: impotence, helplessness and evil. Just what we need
when we need him.
D. Martyn Bookwalter's set is so true it's imprinted on
our memories. We've seen it all before; it's so familiar with its dingy
details, spots on the wall where pictures no longer hang, scruffy
wallpaper, dispirited window shades. In the second act, two weeks later,
we see small miracles of change with Harold's influence. Martin Aronstein
puts his prestigious talent at the service of Equity-waiver and lights the
old family home with pale sepia memory tints of old photos; it lingers
lovingly on a chosen subject as each scene ends. Doug Spesert's costumes
indicate the orphans' improved condition, while Harold's long journey from
orphanhood is shown in his consistent GQstyle, always impeccable. Jon
Gottlieb's sound is, as ever, fitting and also unobtrusive. J.A.C.
Redford composed the appropriate and lovely incidental music.
Orphans can be taken to the heart as a rare treat,
funny, poignant, exciting and best of all inspiriting.
L.A. WEEKLY, Sept. 2-8, 1983 (PICK OF THE
by Joie Davidow
Treat is a petty thief. He keeps himself and his
brother Phillip in mayonnaise and Starkist tuna by stealing wallets,
watches and rings. Phillip is afraid to go outside. He thinks tie's
allergic to a lot of things, especially fresh air. Phillip can't even tie
his own shoelaces, and Treat likes it that way. It gives him a certain
authority over his brother. The boys are orphans, you see. Dad ran away
from home long ago, and Mom died when they were still little kids, so
they've been fending for themselves in the family's old North Philadelphia
house ever since. One day, Treat brings home Harold, a drunken
middle-aged man wearing an expensive suit. Harold has a leather briefcase
full of negotiable securities and a wallet full of credit cards. Treat
thinks he's hit paydirt this time. Harold is full of stories about his own
childhood spent in an orphanage, and he's certainly glad he found Treat in
that downtown bar, that he finally met a "real dead end kid." Treat
decides to kidnap Harold and hold him for ransom, but Harold turns the
tables on Treat and pulls a gun on him. "I'm not going to hurt you,"
Harold says, "I'm just going to hire you." And so begins Harold's
rehabilitation of brothers Phillip and Treat. But who is Harold? Is he a
gangster running from the mob, a self-made millionaire, a guardian angel
come to rescue these derelict boys? John Lehne has beautifully directed
this world premiere of Lyle Kessler's play, finding its naive charm,
taking advantage of every laugh in the dark comedy, and adding a few
slapstick chuckles of his own. The performances are all quite wonderful
Paul Lieber's swaggering, violent Treat, Joe Pantoliano's innocent,
slobbering Phillip and Lane Smith's suave and kindly Harold. Their
characterizations are neatly balanced, part real people part allegorical
creatures, and both Lieber and Pantoliano manage liquid smooth transitions
as Harold dresses them up and civilizes them. D. Martyn Bookwalter's
set is a nice combination of sleazy authenticity and humor.
DAILY BREEZE NEWS-PILOT, Sept. 30, 1983
"ORPHANS" SPINS A TALE OF HOPE AND DISCOVERY
by Sandra Kreiswirth
Lyle Kessler's "Orphans" at the Matrix Theater in Los
Angeles is a fascinating, slightly flawed fable/fantasy about love, trust
Joseph Stern has delivered yet another excellent
production under the auspices of Actors For Themselves enhanced by John
Lehne's fine direction and strong performances by Joe Pantoliano, Lane
Smith and Paul Lieber.
This world premiere captures' the imagination at once.
It's funny, sad, depressing, uplifting and sometimes farfetched.
Set in a run-down house in North Philadelphia,
"Orphans" is the tale of two brothers one a mugger, the other an
apparently retarded recluse whose lives are changed when their kidnap
victim takes charge of their lives.
Treat (Lieber) is the older brother. A grown-up
juvenile delinquent who supports himself and his brother by relieving
people on the street of their valuables. He's not adverse to cutting up
his victims a bit to keep them quiet, then can't understand why they verbally
abuse him. Except for a stint in reform school, he's taken care of his
brother ever since their mother died when they were children. He's
provided a home of sorts for his brother but emotionally only delivered
custodial care along with lots of Bellman's mayonnaise and Star-Kist tuna.
Phillip (Pantoliano) is an innocent. He dresses in torn
clothes and shoes with untied laces because he's never been taught how to
make a knot Treat forces him to stay in the house because years ago he had
an allergic reaction outside. He watches old movies and game shows, knows
the brand name of every prize on "The Price is Right" and spends a lot of
time hiding in the upstairs closets filled with his mother's old coats.
Treat tells Phillip he has no intellect, yet Treat
occasionally finds Words underlined in the newspaper. When pressed,
Phillip makes up fantasies about Errol Flynn hiding in the house. Errol
must have underlined the words. Ultimately Treat not only discovers a
dictionary hidden inside the sofa, but other books, too.
What exactly is Phillip doing when Treat's not home?
And if he knows enough to be able to read, why is he still there? He
treasures a red satin pump he's gotten from Somewhere but where? Those
questions go unanswered.
Harold (Smith) is Treat's victim - an expensively
dressed man he meets downtown and lures home to rob. Harold, urbane and
all-knowing, comes with Treat because he sees him as a little Dead End
Kid. Harold passes out drunk waking to find himself bound and gagged. A
fan of Houdini, he easily frees himself the next morning while Treat's on
the streets leaving a helpless Phillip to watch with wide-eyes. Does
Of course not He stays to teach these brothers the
lessons of life. He tells them stories about being an orphan newsboy in
Chicago and wearing copies of the Chicago Tribune to ward off the
icy winds. He offers Phillip affection - "I bet your shoulders are dying
for an encouraging squeeze which is just what he needs. No more worry
about tying shoe laces, Harold promises Phillip slip-on loafers. Any
color. And he's not even mad at Treat. Instead he offers him a job as his
bodyguard his background is shady.
By act two, Harold has moved in, decorated the
apartment and put Treat on his payroll. He's dressed Phillip in white wool
pants and pink silk shirt. Pale yellow loafers grace his feet Treat has
traded his fatigues and torn T-shirts for Pierre Cardin suits, and he's
become intimately acquainted with Harold's American Express card.
As he sings "If I Had the Wings of an Angel," Harold
has all the answers. He appears in the brothers' lives suddenly as if sent
by some mysterious force. He's Robin Hood. He's the guardian angel He
explains everything so clearly.
He's an evangelist, a psychologist, a friend. What ever
the problem, he has special insight. For Phillip, he has the ultimate key
to unlocking the door of life ifor the child/man the answer to where he
is in time and space. What is it? A street map of Philadelphia. That's
apparently all it takes. Treat's problems are deeper not to be cured so
Ultimately Kessler's ending is a bit of a fairy tale
wrap-up. But getting there
is both fun and touching. Despite the fact that Kessler
asks us to accept a few shaky propositions, especially about Phillip,
"Orphans" is imaginitive in its concept and keeps the audiences' attention
from start to finish. Kessler's characters are well drawn with each one's
language unique to himself.
Pantoliano's Phillip is endearing. He's wonderful to
watch in his confused innocence and even more interesting as he discovers
life's simple answers. Lane gives Harold a mysterious other-world quality.
He could very easily be an imaginary character. And Lieber, the most
traditional member of this trio, is a good contrast to the other two an
example of a hustler existing purely on instincts most 'of them bad.
Lehne's direction has resulted in tight ensemble work
with excellent pacing. The first act is over before you know it In fact
the evening (two acts three scenes in each) zips by. D. Martyn
Bookwalter's seamy living room set changes from musty, old, cluttered and
dirty to well-appointed and chic between acts. When the lights go out, the
wallpaper becomes star-studded.
Doug Spesert's costumes, Martin Aronstein's lighting
and Jon Gottlieb's sound design live up to the excellent standards we've
come to expect from an Actors For Themselves Production.
STAR-NEWS, Friday, Sept. 2, 1983
"ORPHANS" MAKES SENSE
by JANET NORSE
Hey, what is it with this guy, anyway? Kidnapped by a
thug, guarded by a seemingly demented recluse, he shows no fear. He frees
himself with surprising ease, yet doesn't escape. He helps these two
rejects of society. He likes these two rejects of society. Who does
this guy think he is?
Audience members can answer that question for
themselves at Lyle Kessler's "Orphans," a moving and delightful parable
now at the Matrix Theatre in Hollywood. Actors for Themselves, the company
that presented last year's multi-award-winning "Betrayal," has done itself
proud in a very different kind of play.
John Lehne has directed "Orphans" with a fine feeling
for both the comedy and the deeper meanings of the script. The result is
coherent and thoughtful, and the shifting relationships between the
characters make sense throughout the play.
Paul Lieber, playing the mugger, Treat, gives a
multi-level performance. His coldness and greed are incontestable; but so
is his love for his reclusive brother, although he's unable for most of
the play to express that love as more than a threatened possessiveness.
Joe Pantoliano gives a remarkable performance as
Phillip, Treat's brother. This is a role that could have been easy to
overdo, to caricature, but Pantoliano never stoops to that. In his
smallest facial expressions and gestures, he creates a real person with a
real desire for a better life.
The whole play hinges on Harold, the mysterious
stranger who takes this unlikely pair under his wing, and Lane Smith
responds fully to the challenge. He is knowing without being judgmental,
pragmatic without being unloving, humorous without flippancy.
D. Martyn Bookwalter's set sums up the play
beautifully: a once-beautiful house gone hopelessly to seed in the first
act, made comfortable and home-like in the second. Martin Aronstein's
lighting design is equally appropriate.
Doug Spesert's costumes are right for each character,
most particularly for Phillip's second-act evolution: socially acceptable,
but still slightly off-the-wall. The original music for the show, composed
by J.A.C. Redford, is warm and cheerful.