“Fatherhood. Family. Poverty. Magic,” said actor Alec Silberblatt as he listed the substance of “Orphans,” the newest offering from the Lake Dillon Theatre Company.
Silberblatt portrays Philip, the younger of two adult orphaned brothers featured in “Orphans,” by Lyle Kessler, the 2013 Tony Award-nominated “Best Revival,” which starred Alec Baldwin, Ben Foster and Tom Sturridge, who received a “Best Actor” nomination for his portrayal of Phillip.
“Philip is a wild child,” said Silberblatt, describing his character who, at the beginning of the play, is afraid to leave the dilapidated Philadelphia row house he shares with his brother Treat. “But during the course of the play, he overcomes his fear and discovers a new world beyond the front door.”
Comedic look at tough themes
“Orphans” tells the story of two young men abandoned at an early age by an unfaithful father and the death of their mother. The violent, yet emotionally wounded elder brother Treat provides for the younger, possibly disabled Phillip through odd jobs and petty thievery. But when Treat kidnaps a Chicago gangster named Harold with the idea to ransom him for some fast cash, the brothers gain an unsuspecting teacher, healer and surrogate father.
“(‘Orphans’) explores the idea of being stuck,” said Brendan McGrady, who portrays Treat. “It also explores the theme of codependence and asks the question, ‘How much do we need each other?’”
While Orphans tackles weighty themes, playwright Kessler writes the three misfit characters with a nuanced sensitivity, presenting them with as much humor as they have grit.
Christopher Alleman, Lake Dillon Theatre Company producing artistic director (“A Behanding in Spokane,” “Doubt”) joins Silberblatt and McGrady in the patriarchal role of Harold, and the trio of actors presents a range of actions and emotions that constitute two acts of theater that is both funny and moving.
“‘Orphans’ can be structurally and thematically described as a ‘black comedy,’ with roots in dark humor and gallows humor,” said Tim Paré, Lake Dillon Theatre Company educational director. “Summed up as humor that makes light of serious subject matter — and specifically in ‘Orphans’ the themes of orphans, ‘dead-end-kids’ and morality — black comedy encourages audiences to think about more serious social issues through the convention of a more accessible comic genre.”
While certainly not a farce, Kessler’s play, his use of language, the characters’ discovery of self and the world and the at-times-ridiculous circumstances all blend to form a story that mixes several genres, including comedy, drama, fantasy and melodrama, into one production.
Perfect fit for the season
“‘Orphans’ fits perfectly into our 20th anniversary season, with each production exploring different American experiences and journeys,” said Lake Dillon’s executive director Joshua Blanchard, who also directs the production.“The play takes place during the mid-1980s, and while much of America experienced economic security in the 1980s, poverty was a systematic challenge that faced many Americans in the urban, industrial areas of the country. As a result, social issues such as crime, disease and abandonment increased in these areas.
“Treat and Philip’s struggle against the sociopolitical and economic oppression toward America’s struggling lower classes is a core construct in the play’s plot and a constant theme throughout the production. These ideas still resonate today, as families and young people come to terms the ‘new norms’ of a post-recession America.”
But while the subject matter may seem heavy, the play offers the idea that a promising future may or may not be waiting just beyond tomorrow.
“Each audience member will take away something slightly different, depending on how they relate to the characters and situations onstage,” Blanchard said.
“Audiences are going to have their sides split with laughter and then have their hearts broken, too,” McGrady said. “As an audience member, I always love having a play take me on an emotional journey.”