Encouragement Abounds on North Camac Street

Posted by Pete DeMola on 15. Apr 2009

We're not theater connoisseurs by any means (to us, live theatrics usually present themselves in the form of watching inebriates wobble down Chengfu Lu at 3am), but we're sincere when we say that you owe it yourselves to check out Orphans, the realist play that has been causing ripples in Beijing's arts community since its premier on Thurs, Apr 2 at the Penghao Theater.

In a nutshell, the play, penned by American playwright Lyle Kessler, centers on two orphaned brothers -- one a petty street thug (Treat), the other a sheltered idiot savant (Philip) -- from a rundown north Philadelphia neighborhood whose lives become upturned with the entry of an old school gangster (Harold) into their humdrum lives.

Ripe with foul language, esoteric pop culture references (Dead End Kids, anyone?) and copious amounts of inebriation, the two-act play grows increasingly more violent over it's two hour running time, and manages to do so while posing cerebral, thought-provoking questions on the nature vs. nature argument, familial support structures and even Hellmann's mayonnaise.

"After seeing Orphans in college, I changed my major to theater," said director Peter Walters, a Beijing-based screenwriter and film producer, in an email message. "Treat and Philip's intense but poetic story on the breakdown of support structures made a strong impression on me, and I wanted to learn how to re-create those experiences for others."

He's succeeded in that regard admirably. Walters cited an email he received from a middle-aged German fellow who became so overwhelmed with emotion after watching the performance, needed ninety minutes to calm down and subsequently couldn't sleep that night.

Walters paired up with Beijing International Theatre Experience (BITE) producer Anna Grace last fall to bring the play to the Beijing stage. According to the press release, both see this play as an opportunity to continue to develop this city's emerging English-language theater scene.

To draw inspiration from a line uttered by Harold (acted with intense conviction by the brilliant Ian Reed) in the play's most memorable scene, although this reviewer didn't know a real stage performance from a fuckin' tangerine before attending, he's looking forward to seeing what BITE comes up with in the future.

Lyle Kessler's Orphans will run from Apr 16-19 at the Penghao Theater, 35 Dongmianhua Hutong, Xicheng District. Visit BITE's official website for additional information. Tickets can be ordered online through Beijing Home Delivery.

Treat: Nick Ma
Philip: Kris Chung
Harold: Ian Reed

Photo: Harold and Treat share a moment. Courtesy of Judy Wang.

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