By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
Once upon a time, not so long ago, in grungy house in North Philadelphia, there lived two orphans. They ate tuna fish every day and kept their dead mother’s coats hanging in the closet. The older brother, Treat (Ben Foster), is filled with rage and makes their living by mugging people in Fairmount Park; the younger brother, Phillip (Tom Sturridge), is not quite right in his head and stays indoors, leaping around the room, from sofa back to windowsill, agile as a young ape.
This impressive and engrossing revival of Lyle Kessler’s 1983 play, Orphans, is like a fairy tale about innocence and neediness (as most fairy tales are), except that here the orphans are grown men. And what every fairy tale needs is a godfather—her literalized by a Chicago mobster named Harold (Alec Baldwin). Turns out he too is an orphan, with emotional scars and needs of his own, and the old television serial, “The Dead End Kids” becomes their own household fable.
Although Harold is the one kidnapped after a drunken night in a bar, the roles are quickly reversed, and Harold’s money, worldliness and need to be a father-figure, transforms both the younger men and keeps them in thrall to him.
The three knockout performances in these juicy roles are each particularized with details and a quirky, individual style under Daniel Sullivan’s high-speed direction. Baldwin’s Harold is self-amused, alternating between paternal pomposity and self-ironizing nostalgia. Foster’s Treat is the most recognizable kind of stage testosterone: vicious and self-defeating and slightly stupid, punching walls, breaking stuff. Sturridge’s Phillip is astonishingly athletic, convincingly brian-damaged, sweet but never cloying, keeping the pathos real.
The set, designed by John Lee Beatty, is perfectly authentic – I recognize that North Philly house. And the Philadelphia Inquirer Treat reads is wonderfully thick, a bon fide relic of the old days.
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre 236 W. 45th Street, NY Through June 30. Tickets $67 - $132 Tele-charge: (212) 239-6200, (800) 432-7250