Monday, April 17, 2017

Orphans—Young Professionals Company—NE Portland

Family Angst

This drama is written by Lyle Kessler and directed by Val Landrum.  It is playing at Oregon Children’s Theatre’s home location, 1939 NE Sandy Blvd., through April 30th (adult language used).  For more information, go to their site at www.octc.org/yp-company

We all have had parents and gone through the normal family angst.  But some are raised as orphans, never having had a real family and, therefore, the world outside seems like an alien atmosphere to them, having never experienced the love and direction a parent would give as to how to adapt to it.  In this story we have two teenagers, sisters, living in an abandoned home in one the poorer sections of Philadelphia.  Treat (Maya Caulfield) is the eldest and definitely rules with an iron fist.  She is violent, inconsiderate and a control freak, the alpha wolf.  Her younger sibling, Phillip (Emma Goldman-Fish), is pretty much the opposite of Treat.  She is child-like, timid, has all sorts of allergies, can’t write, can barely read and has never been outside her home.

Treat makes a meager living for them as a pick-pocket and petty thief.  She even resorts to some violence if provoked, like a cornered animal in a cage would.  She is over-protective of her sister, not wanting to expose her to the outside elements, possibly for fear of losing her, and Phillip is fully dependant on her.  It is an odd sort of bond, a dysfunctional family unit of sorts, but themselves without the guidance of parents and values.  They are as a ship drifting in the fog, without a beacon to point them to a safe haven.  They are the lost children of a never-land, who may never grow up.

Into this shaky world, an adult is thrust, Harold (James Farmer), himself an orphan as a child.  Treat kidnaps him easily from a bar, as he is too drunk to resist.  He sees Treat as the ultimate Dead-End Kid from the movies, surly, reckless, angry, but has certain street smarts.  Treat finds his briefcase has stock and bonds in it so assumes he is a wealthy man and decides to hold him for ransom.  He is tied up as Treat leaves to investigate his contacts.  Meanwhile, Harold befriends Phillip and, over a course of time, begins to teach her about the outside world, giving her encouragement, hope, which doesn’t sit well with Treat, as she senses she is losing her control over this family.  More I cannot tell you without spoiling the climax but know that it is bittersweet.  I left with a tear in my eye.

This is a story that sneaks up on you.  At the beginning it seems like just a simple story of some petty thieves trying to survive, like in Dickens’, “Oliver Twist.”  But it grows into something a lot more, as it takes on its own mantle and becomes a parable of sorts on control, freedom, values, direction, Life and, yes, even Love.  Landrum knows acting, being a fine one herself, and has carefully led her performers through calm, humor, hurt, rage and enlightenment, as the audience feels the progress themselves and, in the end, are moved by it.

It is also evident that this company, led by Dani Baldwin, OCT’s Education Director, has the smarts to do training and plays that reflect realistically the environment they are now existing in and allowing them a safe haven in which to explore the conflicting feelings that they must have in navigating this bumpy trail.  I can’t emphasize enough the importance of their school and the education they are getting, stressing teamwork, self-confidence and the freedom to express themselves and explore those feeling in a safe environment.  Public education has all but abandoned the Arts so it is up to these private institutions to reenergize them for the sake of our Youth and future generations!

Farmer underplays the role of Harold and it works wonderfully, allowing the two Youths to express the frustrations of their plight.  Goldman-Fish is a revelation as Phillip, as we see her grow from a scared rabbit to a determined lioness, as she matures before your eyes.  She is excellent in the role and is definitely destined for an onstage career if she wishes it.  Caulfield is amazing.  She tears up the stage as she rants and rages but you know behind those bravados there is a wiser being beneath.  She dominates the stage, even when in one of her quieter, inquisitive moods, and you can actually see her thinking, weighing things, as she prowls the stage.  This is an outstanding performance and she will be a talent to be reckoned with as she matures in the Arts!  (A side note, I cast Maya in a film when she was 12—based on Dani’s recommendation—and she had that mesmerizing concentration even then).

I highly recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.