Orphans **

Orphans, a new play by Dennis Kelly, starts with a fantastic bang but soon becomes a collection of whimpers.

Helen and Danny are a married couple who have just sat down for a fancy dinner in their comfortable living room when Liam enters, covered with blood and elusive of explanations.  Helen and Danny question Liam, trying to find out the truth behind his story so they know what to do.

The scenario is filled with possibilities, and there are some rather nice exchanges and ideas at work.  Unfortunately, what starts out with such promise soon erodes into a rather predictable moral dilemma.  The repetitive style of dialogue, which starts effectively, also grows tiresome and at times sounds like a bad imitation of David Mamet’s writing style.  It also ends on such a cruel note that one is left feeling very little for any of the characters.  I’ll give Kelly credit for being brave with the ending, but by removing any and all sympathy for the three characters I felt rather challenged to give a damn.

This is a shame because Roxana Silbert has created a rather good looking production.  She takes a scenario straight out of a nightmare and makes it feel real.  She is also assisted by a nice-looking set and three rather strong performers, all of whom act brilliantly and manage to make something out of the plot and their characters.

But one must return to Kelly’s script.  Each character has so much rich potential, and the initial jumping off point is so intriguing, that a fully formed drama could easily have been made.  Instead, Kelly has opted for the easy way, resulting in a production that feels unnecessarily harsh and devoid of much humanity.  It’s fine to end on a dark note and to have characters make questionable decisions, but to make all three characters so unsympathetic that by the end one hardly cares one way or another is almost unforgivable.

In the end, Orphans is nothing more than a shallow production with punchy lines and great, unfulfilled potential.

Playing at Traverse 1 until August 30 before touring.  Check for correct times as they vary.

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