Orphans is raw. A trio of riveting actors fills this intense, violent play about two dysfunctional brothers with raw language, raw emotions and raw, unforgettable performances. Not only does this production at California Stage send out jolts of energy, its discomforting intensity stays with you for days.The production is a perfect fit in all regards—the intimate California Stage is a perfect venue for the tension-filled drama, and the cast of two locally renowned actors and one emerging actor are perfect choices for Lyle Kessler’s disturbing and oddly uplifting Orphans.
The play centers around Phillip (Miles Taber) and Treat (Bill Voorhees)—two brothers in survival mode after being orphaned at an early age. Treat is a minor thug, mugging for money while keeping younger brother Phillip on an emotional short leash. It’s unclear how old these brothers are, though a quick guess would be late teens, but what is clear is that they’ve lived in their run-down North Philly house for years without outside influence.
Treat bullies brother Phillip, mind-fucking him and physically dominating him in an oddly effective method of keeping him safely inside by making him fearful of strangers and the world. It’s the juxtaposition of protectiveness and violence that is so disturbing, the domestic violence where you wear a person down in an effort to control them.
Into this house of sparing siblings comes Harold (Loren Taylor), a drunk that Treat brings home in order to steal his briefcase. In his drunken rambling, Harold talks about growing up as “a poor motherless child” in an abusive orphanage and relating to the Dead End Kids movies, but eventually ends up as Treat’s kidnapped victim.
The second half explores the relationship between this threesome as Harold goes from kidnapped victim to father figure, charming Phillip while trying to guide Treat into a more genteel method of crime. Though at times the plot lacks credibility, the audience is willing to make that suspension of disbelief leap because the supposed outcome is so inviting.
Orphans is the third production by Dollar Bill Productions, spearheaded by local actor/producer Voorhees, who doubles here as director and actor. Voorhees is usually busy acting in other local performances, but sporadically produces under his own name. This time, he’s brought in fellow performer Taylor, whom he’s acted with in River Stage’s productions, along with relative newcomer Taber, and under his guiding light, produces many memorable moments.
Both stage veterans Voorhees and Taylor give the captivating performances they’ve become known for, multi-layering emotions of complicated characters. You know you’re in the hands of capable professionals as they sweep you inside their disturbing world. However, the breakthrough performance is Taber as the emotionally damaged yet touchingly endearing Phillip. Taber, on summer leave from UC Irvine, is a presence to behold and a talent to take note of, completely capturing the emotionally vulnerable boy who yearns to capture the world. A first-rate performance amid first-rate performers.