Smell A Rat?


By Marinell Haegelin


Orphans by Lyle Kessler at English Theatre with Clifford Dean directing

 The English Theatre’s directors Robert Rumpf and Clifford Dean deliver a spectrum of theaters’ best: classics, thrillers, comedies, and critically successful contemporary productions. It commences its 40th Anniversary Season with excellence in directing, casting, acting, sound design, and the stage setting of an American modern classic.


Christopher Buckley (Phillip) left, and Chris Casey (Treat) right
Credit: © Kock, ETH


The boys manage; they’ve got a roof over their heads and food in their bellies. Being elder, i.e. smarter, Treat provides for his kid brother through ill-gotten gains, which he constantly reminds Phillip about. Tough—with a boulder-size chip on his shoulder—Treat calls the shots. Left to fend for himself, Phillip’s got his mom’s closet to hole up in and he devises ways of entertainment. Treat says he’s a bit peculiar, but he remembers “them big long words, don’t he?” Then, one early morning Treat hauls home this drunken guy from a joint in downtown Philly (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA). His ulterior motive is “… man’s worth a fortune.” When lucid, Harold jabbers about “dead end kids” and, intriguingly, growing up in an orphanage. Later that day, after Harold’s finagling, Phillip swears to his brother – the outfoxed, outwitted, and outraged kidnapper – “I was watch’ him, Treat; I didn’t touch him just like you said.” Quickly taking control of the situation, Harold makes them an offer they can’t refuse. In no time, both respond to this complex man: Treat emulating and posturing, Phillip gingerly accepting “encouragement”, and coaching. Finally given a “real job”, its repercussions send Treat off on a tangent, and their Chicago friend into the night. Never too late, the hard nut cracks, and reaches out – “we seen what we had to see.”


Christopher Buckley (Phillip) left, and Alan Booty (Harold) right
Credit: © Kock, ETH

Lyle Kessler’s an American actor-screenwriter-playwright-director. Since its Los Angeles premiere, Orphans (1983) has been produced from Mexico to Japan, Iceland to South America and now Hamburg’s English Theatre. Impressive starring actors include Joe Pantoliano, John Mahoney, Al Pacino, and Matthew Modine to name a few. Albert Finney, who won the Oliver Award in 1986, starred in Alan J. Pakula’s 1987 same-titled film. Alec Baldwin, Ben Foster and Tom Sturridge starred in its 2013 Broadway debut and revival receiving two Tony Award nominations. Tom Waits and Lou Reed are among its long list of admirers.


Clifford Dean skillfully applies years-long experience interpreting the flexibly written play. Specifically, Dean chose to visually illuminate the oft-mentioned closet. He staged the casts every movement for the fullest effect. Dean’s attention to detail involved sound design (Paul Glaser), and stage setting (Mathias Wardeck). Christopher Buckley’s (Phillip) challenge was finding the right balance of innocence, cluelessness, and illiteracy. Alternating violence with protectiveness, especially demanding for Chris Casey (Treat) was the emotional intensity between the brothers, particularly in the second act. Alan Booty’s (Harold) character’s antithetical traits are: gangster, instructor, healer, survivor, and willingness for surrogate fathering. Getting into the role, Booty changed direction until he wore the chacter comfortably. Darkly humorous, the play combines raw human nature, absurdism, tragedy, and realism; Orphans’ message is impossible to ignore. It’s nice to know where you are, and you aren’t alone.


“Orphans is wickedly funny one minute and powerfully emotional the next. Kessler uses humor as a subversive force, making the shift into despair a visceral gut punch.” – The Hollywood Reporter


From left Alan Booty (Harold), Christopher Buckley (Phillip), and Chris Casey (Treat)
Credit: © Kock, ETH

ORPHANS premiered September 8 and runs until November 5, 2016. The next production is DON’T LOSE THE PLACE, Derek Benfield’s comedy based on the adage, “If anything can go wrong it will.” It premieres on November 17, 2016 through February 4, 2017.


Evening and matinee performances; tickets available at the theatre or online. The English Theatre of Hamburg, Lerchenfeld 14, 22081 Hamburg, Tel: 040-227 70 89: U-Bahn Mundsburg.