Arts & Leisure

“Orphans” shines as funny family drama

LUKE BRODOWSKI and Scott Keister in “Orphans” at Golden West College (GWC photo by Tim Mueller).

By Thom deMartino

“I admire violent men,” said the kidnapped fellow in the Golden West College production of “Orphans.” “They don’t stop at nothin’.”

Living alone together, in the disheveled home of their broken family, brothers Treat (Luke Brodowski) and Phillip (Reagan Pettigrew) couldn’t be more different. Treat’s a two-bit thief and mugger — with serious anger and intimacy issues — who robs to keep the lights on as he cares for his shut-in little brother Phillip, a gentle, trusting and seemingly simple-minded young man who can’t tie his shoes, doesn’t venture outside for fear of allergies he thinks might kill him, and learns about the world by watching “The Price Is Right.”

When Treat tires of the robbing and mugging game, he gets the bright idea to kidnap someone, demand a ransom: but when he brings the drunken Harold (Scott Keister) home with him, with intent to leverage the man for cash, he doesn’t realize the transformative influence he’s inadvertently brought into their home. Even bound to a chair, the charismatic Harold is persuasive and charming, instantly striking up a friendship with Phillip while Treat isn’t home, even inviting him over for some “encouragement” — a simple, comforting arm around the shoulder, a strange and foreign concept to the young man, so unfamiliar with a nurturing touch.

Predictably, Treat is infuriated with the budding friendship between the would-be victim and his own brother: yet it isn’t long before Harold turns the tables on him, too, confessing he knew that Treat had a violent nature when he accompanied him back from the bar, and acknowledging that he admires that trait, since such men “get things done”… and with his own shady background, he just might have some special “work” for the aspiring delinquent.

While some theater companies offer up popular and relatively standard fare for their audiences, the GWC theater department has been presenting some challenging and richly contextual work this season, and “Orphans” is an excellent example. What could be simply a crime or family drama instead combines the two, with a great humor as well: the audience is privy to the “victim” becoming instead a proxy father figure, encouraging both young men to push their own boundaries and grow, despite their fears.

Pettigrew is charming and effervescent as Phillip: lively, trusting and loving; Keister, as Harold, encompasses both a paternal concern and compassion for the brothers, while still maintaining a subtle undercurrent of control, persuasion and menace; and Brodowski impresses in what could be a one-note performance, a man consumed by his anger and resentment — yet, becomes something deeper, seeing the volatile young man try to come to terms with his repressed emotions, the feelings he dare not address … that in truth, define him.

Director Tom Amen notes in the program: “In one way or another, we are all orphans; despite the fullness of our lives, there often remains a nagging sense of something missing, something lost… Do we ever outgrow the feeling that things that seem to come so easily to others, are always just beyond our grasp?”

With comedy, drama, and surprising pathos, Golden West College’s production of “Orphans” is something special, providing insight into a broken family trying to heal, a man trying to leave a legacy of knowledge and experience to his “adopted” children, and ultimately, the individual’s challenge of coming to terms with himself.

“Orphans.”  Playing for a limited engagement March 10 -19 at the Golden West College Mainstage Theater, 15751 Gothard St., Huntington Beach, CA 92647. Tickets available through the box office at (714) 895-8150, x1 or at Suggested for mature audiences.


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