Orphans | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

ORPHANS, The Core Productions, at Victory Gardens Theater Studio. Fifteen years ago, when young, flannel-clad Chicago actors kicking the shit out of their set and each other was still somewhat new and exhilarating, the flaws in Lyle Kessler's Sam Shepard knockoff were easier to overlook. But this mechanical 1982 drama about two orphaned brothers whose kidnapping victim becomes their surrogate father now seems little more than a period piece.

Premiered at Steppenwolf, made into a not-so-major motion picture starring Albert Finney, and revived only a year ago at Bailiwick in a solid production, Orphans allows actors to show their emotional and physical range. And the Core Productions performances are certainly better than average, with Eric Brant appropriately frenetic as the agoraphobic Phillip, Jim Henry menacing if somewhat mannered and unconvincingly tough as his scheming brother Treat, and David Pera grandiose and oddly charming as newfound father figure Harold. But despite lots of full-contact wrestling, mayonnaise snarfing, and leaping about, Core fails to find a compelling reason for yet another production of a play in which every plot twist is telegraphed early on and every mawkish plea for compassion amid the alleged savagery and alienation of modern existence is repeated ad nauseam. Underscoring key speeches and scene changes with music by the likes of the Cure, Nine Inch Nails, and R.E.M. doesn't make Kessler's drama seem any more current or subtle.

--Adam Langer

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