Tuesday, January 21, 2014


Playwright:  Lyle Kessler
Company:  The Edge Theatre Company

Venue:  The Edge Theatre,  1560 Teller Street, Lakewood CO 80214.
Running Time:  2 hours, 15 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission)
Date of Performance:  Saturday, January 18, 2014

As Lyle Kessler's Orphans opens, Phillip (Christian Mast) eats a jar of Hellman's mayonnaise with a spoon, while watching cartoons in the squalor of his north Philadelphia row house.  My stomach churned a little with each bite.
Orphans is a tense, engaging tale of two brothers living together in miserable conditions, surviving on tuna and mayo sandwiches bought with the booty from petty crimes.  Think "Dead End Kids" as adults.  It's a day to day existence.  Treat leaves every day to pick pockets and mug anyone who looks like a suitable victim.  Phillip, who is developmentally disabled and stuck at a mental age in single digits, stays home and watches TV.  All day.
However, after Treat kidnaps Harold (Rick Yaconis) and holds him for ransom, things change.  Harold is a "force that will forever change their lives" (citation from The Edge).  You will have to figure out for yourself why Harold changes their lives so completely; I don't do spoilers.  However, keep in mind that Treat and Phillip are orphans, abandoned by their parents.
I'll get right to the point here.  Orphans at The Edge is a sensational drama brimming with outstanding performances.  
Jack Wefso (Treat), Christian Mast (Phillip), Rick Yaconis (Harold)
Christian Mast (Phillip) is locked in.  He performs prior to the show, as the audience is seated.  He doesn't say much; he just goes about Phillip's business as we wait for the show to begin.  With a spoon, a jar of mayonnaise, and with cartoons on the TV, he wanders around, watches the tube, or talks to himself.  Mast puts on a clinic for every actor on how to create a character with minimal dialog.  We already know Phillip well when the play begins.
Mast has totally mastered Phillip.  He's an adult, but with a child's emotional and intellectual capabilities.  Mast delivers every line, every gesture, every facial expression in that adult/child's world for nearly three hours.  His performance is one of those rare and unforgettable experiences, and, standing alone, is worth the price of admission.
Jack Wefso (Treat) brings the pain of loss, abandonment, and desperation to his character.  He's insecure to a fault, and angry enough to erupt into violence at the drop of a hat.  Wefso ranges from a hardened thug to a sobbing, crestfallen "orphan" in the last scene.  Treat finally realizes that he has been abandoned twice by his father, and his pain is unbearable.  Wefso skillfully morphs his character from unlikeable to tragic.
Rick Yaconis as Harold is the father figure for Treat and Phillip.  He brings peace to the chaos of their lives, and tries (with limited success) to take the violence out of Treat's personality.  All three performers (Mast, Wefso, and Yaconis) feed off each other, with the ensemble being greater than the sum of its individual actors. 
Sound design here (Rick Reid) merits special attention.  A TV plays during much of the first act, but the audience can't see the screen.  It was displaying "snow," not programming.  Reid designed the TV audio to give the listener the impression it was coming from the onstage TV.  In addition to the convincing TV sound, Reid inserted occasional musical clips in the background that perfectly reflected the time and place of the script.
The program describes Orphans as a "dark comedy."  Director Robert Kramer gets the laughs, but wisely focuses on the drama.  Kramer has an outstanding cast at the top of their game, and he capitalizes on their talent at every turn.  
Orphans is must see theater.  It's a script, a performance, and a production you will not soon forget.

This show closes on February 9, 2014.  
This show is recommended for age 17 and up.  
Pre or post show dining suggestions:  GB's Fish & Chips, 2175 Sheridan Boulevard, Edgewater CO.   Authentic fish and chips and a local favorite.  The Sheridan location is close to the theater (15 minutes, weather/traffic permitting) and features bangers, Shepherd's Pie, and sausage rolls in addition to the fish fry.  Indoor seating is a picnic table to share with your fellow diners.  (NOTE to Orphans fans:  Starkist tuna and Hellman's mayonnaise sandwiches are NOT on the menu.)
Photo Credits:  The Edge Theatre.

Director:  Robert Kramer
Set Design:  Justin Lane
Lighting Design:  Kevin Taylor
Sound Design:  Rick Reid
Costume Design:  Caroline Smith

Treat:  Jack Wefso
Phillip:  Christian Mast

Harold:  Rick Yaconis

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