Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Orphans by Lyle Kessler

L - Kjai Block, Bill Voorhees

By Joe Straw

“F**king A**hole.  God damn you!” – A voice heard from backstage before the performance last Saturday night. - Artist unknown. (If you’re saying it loud enough for me to hear it, I just might print it.)

It used to be in Hollywood you could find a side street off Cahuenga and park anywhere. Now, there are a lot of restrictions and you have to move like a snail to read all of them.  

Not finding any parking, I drove passed Theatre of NOTE on Cahuenga and was heading north toward Hollywood Boulevard to make a right when I heard a car horn. 

I drove upon a Prius, the culprit, all because a man was standing in the crosswalk and he wasn’t moving.  In fact, his arms were outstretched begging the Prius to run him down.

The Prius, caught between the light and pedestrian walkway, was blocking the east flowing traffic on Hollywood Boulevard, trying to inch his way through the humanity.   

But, that one defiant man, feeling he had the right of way, stood in his path while the horn continued to blast. And suddenly, an inexplicable impulse,  the man collapsed onto the hood of the car, lifted both hands, and flipped the horn blower off. 

Priusman stared impassively throughout the whole situation keeping his hand affixed to the horn.  
But, and, as I was making my right on Hollywood Boulevard I noticed, about fifty people, on the corner, filming everything, making their own movie, recapturing the Midnight Cowboy scene.  

And, with just a quick glance, I witnessed the perfect picture of a crowd scene you only see in art photography books, an edging tsunami of happy photographers, capturing a brilliant moment.  

Hollywood, you just never know what you’re going to see when you get there.  – Narrator.

Dollar Bill Productions presents Orphans by Lyle Kessler at the Theatre of NOTE in Hollywood through August 22, 2015.  This production was directed by Bill Voorhees and produced by Rebecca Light, Sigi Gradwohland and Bill Voorhees.

Orphans has been around since, well it was first performed in 1983 to great reviews at the Matrix in Los Angeles, and then on to Chicago, and even in England, not to mention a stop Off Broadway at the Westside Theatre in 1985.

This “Orphans”, at it’s brightest core, is bare bones and with not a lot a frills, but from the opening moments this production soars and never lets up.

The play opens with Phillip (Kjai Block) blowing bubbles in front of the window of his dilapidated apartment, a miserable hovel, with papers and shoe tossed about.  

Phillip is finding happiness blowing one bubble at a time, watching it float, and getting a tremendous amount of satisfaction sticking his dirty finger into it. It is a remarkable moment that defines his innocent childlike persona, the disquieting peculiarity of a boy-like man who moments later will become a very frightened adult.  

Phillip waits for his brother Treat (Bill Voorhees) to come home.  Phillip is aware that Treat has been scrounging the neighborhood for people to fleece and knows that Treat preys upon the weak and weak minded. 

Phillip cannot augur the mood of that person walking through the door.  He waits like a nervous dog, and suddenly becomes preoccupied when he hears the sounds of Treat coming into the apartment. Phillip throws things into the window seat, or behind the cushions of the couch, things he does not want Treat to know about.

Treat, opens the door, and immediately rushes to the window to see if he is being followed.  When the coast is clear Treat unloads the goodies, sorting first and then putting the money and merchandise into empty Hellmann’s mayonnaise jars for safe keeping. Treat’s robbery is done in the name of love, but it’s a bizarre twisted love.

Phillip, in chaste ignorance, doesn’t think robbing someone is a bad thing if no one gets hurt.  A knife, a little blood is okay, heck they’ve got to eat.

But tonight Treat has made a killing and is going to go out and celebrate his thievery.

“I had a real good day today, Phillip. I’m gonna go out, tonight, gonna celebrate!” Treat

“We all outta mayonnaise, Treat. You go out, will you bring home an extra-large bottle of Hellmann’s mayonnaise?” – Phillip    

“We all outta mayonnaise, Treat” is one of my favorite lines from this show but I didn’t hear it on this night. (This happens.) The line is a definitive moment of Phillip’s character.

Treat tells him his day that a man put up a struggle and kicked him in the shins.  Startled, Phillip runs to get the hydrogen peroxide to clean his wound. And while Phillip is cleaning him up Treat asks for the Philadelphia Inquirer and discovers there are words underlined in the paper.

“Here’s a word, dispensation.  You underline this word? – Treat

“I didn’t touch that word.” – Phillip

“You read this word?” – Treat

“No.” – Phillip

“You got a dictionary, Phillip?” – Treat

Treat is catching on that Phillip is not a reliable reporter.  Or maybe he’s known that all along. But what worries Treat more is that Phillip is giving himself an education and that will interrupt his way of doing business, providing for the family, and who knows what else. 

Still, somebody’s got to be the scapegoat for underlining the words so Treat says it’s probably someone upstairs.  Treat gives Phillip a knife and tells him to go up there and take care of him.  And wouldn’t you know it, after a ruckus Phillip comes down the stairs bleeding. Treat wants to take care of him.

“Come here, Phillip.  Let me help you.  Let your big brother Treat take of you.” – Treat

With love comes a little pain.

Later that night Treat brings home a stranger, another orphan, Harold (Darrett Sanders). Harold has on an expensive suit and is carrying a briefcase.  Harold is from Chicago. Harold sees Treat as a Dead End Kid, from the movies, and longing for the taste of corn beef and cabbage.

Meanwhile Treat is eying the briefcase and tries to hide it.

Harold wants to know what they have to eat in the house.  And when he finds out that it’s Star-Kist tuna he wants to take his briefcase and leave.

But Treat, not willing to give up the briefcase, says he in no condition to leave. 

Harold sits or falls, depending on whose foot that was, and tells his story of the orphanage in Chicago, the deaths, and spitting up blood. 

Phillip comes downstairs to listen.

“Orphans crying out.  You know what they were crying?” – Harold

“No.” – Treat

“Mommy!”  - Harold

Harold passes out and Treat starts relieving him of some of his valuables, opens his briefcase, finds stocks and bonds, and decides to tie him up for some kind of ransom.

L - Kjai Block, Darrett Sanders

But when Harold wakes up, he’s got a few tricks up his sleeves, along with an encouraging squeeze, a discomforting intimacy for both boys.  While Treat thinks he has the better of Harold, it is Harold who now holds the cards. 

Bill Voorhees does a remarkable job directing this production.  There are not a lot of frills in this production with minimum lights and set decorations. One might consider this a bare bones production, but the acting is one step short of amazing and there are a lot of beautiful things going on, on stage. It is a production to be proud of and a marvelous work of art.

I loved the opening of this show with Kjai Block as Phillip tackling the role with finesse. Block has a baby face and handles the role exceptionally well. Trapped in this prison like apartment with a scarf to cover his face when he ventures out. And he has ventured out before, making it back before his face swells and the air kills him. But, more could be made of his fear of the outside and then coming back into life and wellness.

Darrett Sanders is very funny as Harold. This is a wonderful role for Sanders who takes his time to make each moment count. When the character is sober Sanders brings an indescribable grandeur to the role, the orphan, who, in his own way, has made it.  This is a physically demanding role and Sanders handles the job with aplomb. One would like to have a better impact from the “mommy” scene.  I would want Harold to say the line that would frighten both men up the stairs.  This moment cries for a greater emotional impact. 

Bill Voorhees has played Treat in other productions and by now he has a great understanding of the role and the play. Voorhees never loses focus and is in the moment from beginning to the end. I particularly liked the blinking eyes, the inexplicable impulse of a moment when there was the possibility of him striking as part of the characterization.

Orphans by Lyle Kessler is an exceptional play and on this night had an exceptional cast making the moments count.   When you go to Hollywood, you never know what you’re going to see, but when you go into the Theatre of NOTE to see Orphans everything works this side of perfection.   

L - Bill Voorhees, Darrett Sanders

Members of the Production Team are as follows:

Matt Richter –Lighting Design
Lauren Thomas – Costume Design
Richard Werner – Prop Design
Bill Voorhees – Graphic Design

Members of the Crew are as follows:

Kelly Egan – Board Operator
Maggie Blake, Suzanne Voss and Alysha Brady – Front of House
Garett Maggart – AMC Liaison
Dan Wingard – Program Design

Run! Run!  Run!  And take an orphan with you, preferably one with a lot of money.

Twitter: @OrphansPlay

Theatre of NOTE
1517 N. Cahuenga Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90028

Reservations:  323-856-8611

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