Right Turn on a Dead End

In the midst of a largely disappointing and fairly fluffy Broadway season, Orphans, now playing at the Gerald Schoenfeld, shines through the mediocrity and dullness as a spark of fun and sincerity. With no theatrical heavyweights on its bill and Alec Baldwin as its only big name, this play surprises with its sincerity and the strength of the performances it contains.

All three actors make some bold choices, committing to them with the poise of one that does not believe in turning back, and the results are rewarding. Taking a character approach to the mysterious Harold, Baldwin seems to be laying it on thick when he first stumbles on drunk, but quickly warms to welcome as his comic and yet touching interpretation unfolds. Maintaining a presence of unquestioned confidence, Baldwin gets laughs without directly playing for them. His character work never undermines the truth of his portrayal, making for an unlikely father figure who appears like the God we thought had abandoned us.

Ben Foster makes a stunning Broadway debut as Treat, striking a careful balance between wanton and warm, allowing his flaws to present genuine conflict while remaining ultimately sympathetic. Volatile, controlling, and extremely sensitive, he presents a commanding presence of nuance with momentary slips that hint he too may suffer from some mental handicap like his brother. Tom Sturridge employs some near-parkour skills as the mentally challenged Phillip, brilliantly utilizing his athletic, physical work to create the feeling of an emotionally caged animal longing to break free. Establishing himself as the affectionate, loving core at the story's center, Sturridge embraces the physical tics of his character without being consumed by them, making for a colorful presence in this power play of three.

Director Daniel Sullivan does well in handling the ambiguity of playwright Lyle Kessler's odd and endearing world. Not seeking to answer many questions or preach any sermons, Sullivan allows this motley family to form, flourish, and falter, focusing on the relationships that make this play poignant. Marrying the oddness of the play's absurdities with the earnest humanity of its characters is this director's greatest contribution.

With an unusual blend of experimentation and accessibility, this play and production teeters in a realm of wide appeal, offering some legitimate theater with the weight of a drama as well as the light and refreshing qualities of a more mainstream comedy. The combination is utterly original and well worth the price of admission. - C. Jefferson Thom

The Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre is at 236 West 45th Street.

Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.