Backstage: “Orphans” Comes To New Burlington Performance Space

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(Host)  A kidnap victim turns the tables on his kidnappers.  That’s at the center of "Orphans", a play which is part of an inaugural year for a new theater in Burlington’s Old North End. 

VPR’s Neal Charnoff went "Backstage" to get the story of the play, and the theater. 

(Miles Davis music) 

(Charnoff)  Music of Miles Davis sets the mood for a new production of "Orphans", at Burlington’s Off Center For The Performing Arts. 

The three-character play takes place in a run-down rowhouse in Philadelphia. 

Treat and Philip are orphaned brothers who have been living in the apartment since their mother died.

Treat is a small-time crook. His younger brother Phillip, who is developmentally disabled, never leaves the house. 

Treat hatches a moneymaking scheme to kidnap Harold, a gangster who also happens to be an orphan. 

But when Treat returns home after an outing, he discovers his plan is starting to backfire. 

(Scene) T:  What’s he doing up there?  P: He’s shaving.  He wanted to be presentable when you came home.  T: He’s using my razor. P: Yes.  T:  The guys taking over! P: He’s not taking over! T: What’s he doing, Philip?  I kidnapped this guy, he’s supposed to be a kidnap victim! Meantime he’s upstairs in my bathroom using my razor.  What kind of a kidnap victim is that? 

(Charnoff)  In this scene, Treat tells his kidnap victim that his associates wouldn’t pay any ransom. 

(Scene)  T:  They hung up on me! H: Hey, I could have told you that if you had asked.  T:  Told me what?  H: Not to call those fellows up. T: Who should I call up?  H:  For ransom? T: Yeah!  H: Well, you might those orphans, they’re the only family I ever had.  Problem is most of them are dead now.  Polio, TB, hunger, poverty, violence…on second thought I wouldn’t bother with those orphans.  T:  What about your business acquaintances?  H: What business acquaintances?  T: the people whose names you got in your wallet.  The people you do business with!  H:  I wouldn’t exactly call them acquaintances, Treat, I hope you didn’t give them your name and address.  T:  I didn’t give them no name and address, what do you think I am, stupid?  H: Absolutely not!

(Charnoff)  So is Harold the victim, or does he have another role to play in the lives of these men?

"Orphans" premiered in 1983, and had successful runs with Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater, which took the play Off-Broadway and to London’s West End.

The Burlington production has been nearly ten years in the making.

The three actors first worked together in a production of David Mamet’s American Buffalo.  They’ve attempted to mount Orphans several times over the years. 

Aaron Massey of Burlington plays younger brother Philip. He explains that their most recent attempt to produce "Orphans" was halted by an unexpected intervention. 

(Massey) "The sort of funny story was that when we were doing American Buffalo we had wanted to do this play, Orphans, and we couldn’t’ get the rights to it because Al Pacino was gonna do it on Broadway, and he had sort of closed down the eastern coast of the United States from all productions of Orphans, and so that’s why we ended up doing American Buffalo again, and then we finally got the rights this year to do it, so here we are."

(Charnoff)  Dennis McSorley of Burlington plays the kidnap victim, Harold. 

He says the actors were drawn to Orphans because it’s such a character-driven play.   

(McSorley) "Here’s a good view of the lives of three individuals, who under this reality that we’re gonna show, meet and how each one of them is affected by the other, there’s no single actor in it or cast member or character that isn’t vital, if any one of them were taken away there’d be no story." 

(Charnoff) John Alexander of Burlington plays the older brother, Treat. He says the play has much to say about the meaning of family. 

Alexander points out that Treat may be a sociopath, but he’s devoted to his younger brother. 

(Alexander)  "Treat takes care of his younger brother, and he takes it very seriously.  He is both parents and older brother, to his little brother." 

(Charnoff) And yet, there are hints that Treat’s kidnap victim may have a paternal role to play. 

In this scene, Harold has cooked a meal for Philip. 

(Scene) H: How is it?  P: Mmmm!  H: Delicious, huh?  P:  Mmmm! H: Its bouillabaisse.  P: Bouillabaisse?  H: Hey, congratulations Philip, that’s French.  You just spoke the French language. Tomorrow we’re gonna have gazpacho.  You’re gonna be multi-lingual by the end of the week.  Do you believe that?  P: Yes.  H: Good.  You have simple faith, Philip.  I admire a man with simple faith. 

(Charnoff) John Alexander believes that thematically, family is at the heart of "Orphans". 

(Alexander) "The importance of connections, the importance of family, and the importance therefore, of not being alone in the world."

(Charnoff) Orphans is being performed at the Off Center for the Performing Arts, a new non-profit performance space in Burlington’s Old North End. 

John Alexander was part of a group that started looking for a  permanent home for the Off Center back in the mid-90’s. 

It wasn’t until 2009 that they found the current space. The 60-seat black box theater was professionally carved out of a former 2-bay truck garage. 

(Charnoff) Dennis McSorley is glad to see a new Burlington outlet for theater productions.   

(McSorley) "It is just what the local artistic theater community has been looking for for a long time, not that there aren’t other venues, but  it’s intimate, the audience is right up on top of everything, and it really is particularly suited for character-driven, small-cast plays, that are going to impact people with the selection of the material." 

(Charnoff)  Orphans will be performed through March 26th.  

For VPR Backstage, I’m Neal Charnoff. 


NOTE: For ticket info, go to link below:

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