'Orphans' review: Tom Sturridge a standout

From left, Tom Sturridge, Alec Baldwin and Ben

From left, Tom Sturridge, Alec Baldwin and Ben Foster during a performance of "Orphans" at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in Manhattan. (Credit: AP)

Forget all the theatrical blood on the walls in rehearsals of "Orphans." Forget the noisy firing of Shia LaBeouf, the ugly leaked emails and anything you've read or heard about Alec Baldwin's lapses of emotional discipline.

If these words are not too strange to use about a very dark power play about feral brothers and a violent kidnapping, "Orphans" is a giddy delight -- an acting treat, a fast-talking adrenaline jolt and lots of fun. Serious fun, OK, but definitely fun.

And despite the fame of Baldwin and the fine movie reputation of La Beouf's last-minute replacement Ben Foster, the name people are likely to remember from this revival of Lyle Kessler's three-man 1983 drama is Tom Sturridge. Everyone in Daniel Sullivan's tight and powerful production is first-rate, but Sturridge, a young British actor in his Broadway debut, creates a vulnerable, stunted character who flies like a monkey from furniture to window pane without his feet ever touching the floor. He is amazing.

But first, a word about the play. When "Orphans" had its New York premiere in 1985, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production, directed by Gary Sinise, was hailed as a breakthrough of explosive ferocity. But even then, despite the high-voltage nastiness, the menace struck me more as Pinter-lite -- with a twist of Sam Shepard identity switch -- than a genuine original.

It still does, but one is unlikely to be dwelling on Kessler's influences from the first glimpse of the catapulting Sturridge to the final disturbing tableaux. Foster and Sturridge are deeply believable as Treat and Phillip, orphaned brothers in a run-down house (designed by John Lee Beatty) in North Philadelphia.

Treat is the older, alpha boy, a sociopath with a knife who has protected his baby brother by convincing him that he has deadly allergies to the outdoors. Treat kidnaps a drunken rich guy for ransom, but the guy (Baldwin) turns out to be a Chicago gangster, an orphan and a father figure.

How terrific to have Baldwin back onstage and in such sly command of every nuance. Though he is hardly the steamy beauty who captured theatergoers with offbeat romances and scary Joe Orton plays in the mid-'80s, there is no hint of the sluggish actor who dragged himself through "Macbeth" in 1998.

Despite his insinuating brushed-pewter voice and his layers of threatening good cheer, when he regularly offers the boys "some encouragement" by rubbing their shoulders, we actually feel a bit comforted.


WHAT "Orphans"

WHERE Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St.

INFO $67-$132; 212-239-6200; orphansonbroadway.com

BOTTOM LINE First-rate revival

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