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Review: ORPHANS is Funny, Touching and Deeply Moving

ORPHANS is a play by Lyle Kessler that premiered in 1983 in Los Angeles, winning the Drama-Logue Award. It made its Broadway debut in 2013. Earlier this Spring, Street Corner Arts selected AaRon Johnson and native Austinite Sarah Kimberly Becker to helm this debut production of their new Sidewalk Series. The new program mentors promising Austin theatre-makers in producing and fully realizing a production. If this debut effort is any indication of what the future of this program holds, Austin is in for a real theatrical treat.

Set in North Philadelphia in 1983, ORPHANS is about orphan brothers Treat (Christopher Alvarenga) and Phillip (AaRon Johnson). Treat is a short tempered thief and Phillip is a man child who has been so beaten down by his brother (in a twisted father figure sense of love and protection) that he can't read and is too frightened to even step outdoors. When Treat brings the drunken Harold (Michael Stuart) home one night under the pretense of holding him for ransom, neither of them has any idea that their world will never be the same. Harold, it turns out, is an orphan himself... and gun in hand, assumes the role of teacher, healer and surrogate parent.

Sarah Kimberly Becker has done a superb job mining the script for both the inherent dark humor and tragedy. The pacing is crisp and the touch deft, moving the evening along to its shattering conclusion.

The production is blessed with a trio of formidable performances. Michael Stuart directed ORPHANS here in Austin nearly 25 years ago and comes back to the material with a poignant and heartwarming performance as Harold. There's a sly wit to his characterization that makes him endearing. AaRon Johnson, as Phillip, gives yet another accomplished and nuanced performance. Just when I think I have seen into the depths of this fearless actor, he astonishes me anew by his unflinching ability lay bare his soul on stage. Watching these two actors work together is to witness both theatrical honesty and enlightenment. Christopher Alvarenga, as Treat, holds his own against Stuart and Johnson with an underbelly of rage that is always bubbling just under the surface.

ORPHANS is very much an actor's play that requires a strong cast to make it work... and this one fills the bill quite nicely. Seating is limited and this week is the final week. Great theatre doesn't come along every day. Make your reservations now, because it was sold out the night I went. And there's a reason for that.

ORPHANS by Lyle Kessler

Running time: Approximately Two Hours with one intermission

ORPHANS, produced by Street Corner Arts, The Sidewalk Series, Sarah Becker, AaRon Johnson, David Stevens and Chuck Moses, at The Back Pack (2400 E. Cesar Chavez
Austin, TX, 78756 ) Aug. 19 - Sept. 3, 2016. Performances are Mondays and Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm. Tickets $15 plus service charges are available at: or (512) 298-9776. Seating is limited and reservations are advised. The Back Pack is located in the back right hand corner of the back of the parking lot, next door to Sky Candy. Theatre is in Room 206, down the hall.

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