Review: Orphans (Old Fitz Theatre / Red Line Productions)

oldfitzVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Apr 14 – May 9, 2015
Playwright: Lyle Kessler
Director: Anthony Gooley
Cast: Danny Adcock, Aaron Glenane, Andrew Henry
Image by Rupert Reid

Theatre review
Many have likened love to air, associating both with an absolute necessity for survival. Unlike air however, love can manifest in many unpredictable ways, and in Orphans, we see how the best of intentions can become cruel behaviour responsible for untold suffering. Phillip and Treat are brothers who have grown up without parents. They share a close mutual reliance, but without any guidance, their instincts have created young men who are dysfunctional together and apart. Beneath the boisterous tone of Lyle Kessler’s writing, is a tender depiction of relationships that has the potential to move and to connect with every person’s experiences of difficult family dynamics. We all have an understanding of the imperfections that exist in our homes, and the accuracy at which the brothers’ problematic and insular world is explored, allows for thorough identification and empathy.

The production is directed well by Anthony Gooley, who ensures that characters are complex and fascinating, with an amplified realism that provides a sense of familiarity even though the circumstances being staged are fairly extreme. It is an unusual and unpredictable story, relayed with vigour and heightened drama, but we do not perceive a great sense of purpose to the director’s work, other than to establish an atmosphere of enthrallment for the duration of the play. We are gripped for its entirety but leave without discovering great insight that matches the gravity of what is seen. The character of Harold is a father figure who destabilises the brothers’ cozy dwelling, performed by Danny Adcock with excellent conviction and strength, but the role is positioned neither enigmatic enough nor believable enough. Harold’s presence does not always make sense in the narrative, and our questioning of his authenticity is an unfortunate dissuasion.

Aaron Glenane turns in a magnificent performance as the younger brother, Phillip. The actor is marvelously nuanced in his intensity, expressing with great efficacy an exhaustive range of psychological possibilities and physical attributes, completely captivating in a beautifully embellished characterisation of damaged innocence. Glenane’s approach is adventurous and playful, but also sensitive and studied. He understands chemistry instinctively, and fosters a strong bond with colleagues and audience that keeps us invested in Phillip’s plight. Offering a macho and manic counterbalance is Treat, the older brother played by Andrew Henry with a threatening and exuberant energy that keeps us anxiously seduced. The largeness of his personality keeps us on the edge, tense in anticipation of his next outburst of trespass or feelings. It is a powerful performance, but Henry’s final scene requires further finessing. A transition of emotion occurs too suddenly and unexpectedly, taking lustre away from the Orphans‘ concluding moment of piquancy.

We encounter strangers every day, but letting new people into our lives is a rare occurrence. The desire for a sense of permanence and security means that we prevent new influences from infiltrating, whether positive or negative. Phillip and Treat had made a habit of their suffering, unaware that a better way of life was within their grasp. Inspiration resides everywhere, and we must be able to welcome it in when the right ones present themselves, so that life can be lived to the fullest, and with any luck, be survived by a legacy of something good.