At the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Ave., Toronto, Ont.
Written by Dennis Kelly
Directed by Leora Morris
Set and costumes by Brian Dudkiewicz
Lighting by Andrew Griffin
Sound by Kate Marvin
Cast: Diana Bentley
David Patrick Flemming
A compelling drama about what really happened when a man finds another man wounded and bleeding in the street. A play about monsters in our midst and trying to find out who really is the monster and who the victim. Another stunning production from the Coal Mine Theatre.
The Story. Liam is covered in blood when he goes to his sister Helen and brother-in-law Danny’s house. He tells them he found a guy in the road, wounded and bleeding and he, Liam, tried to comfort him by holding him—hence all the blood. After careful and relentless questioning we find out that Liam was not telling the whole truth. He thinks the world ‘outside’ is full of monsters and he sees himself as an avenging angel.
The Production. Director Leora Morris has directed a tight, taut production in which the dynamic between the three main characters of Liam, Helen and Danny shift and refocus. Just as we believe that Helen is the strongest of the three and perhaps Liam is the weakest, a bit of information is revealed and that idea is turned on its head. At first Helen seems to hold the power over the two men; then Liam manipulates the situation and changes that focus, and finally even Danny shows his quiet power at a pivotal moment with Helen.
The dialogue is a series of unfinished sentences that are delivered at break-neck speed as if all involved are playing a furious game of ping-pong. And yet for all that fragmentation—reminiscent of David Mamet perhaps—the story is clear in the hands of these accomplished actors.
Leora Morris keeps the audience off-balance, but not the production about where the truth lies. Leora Morris establishes the various relationships: sister vs. brother, brother vs. sister, wife vs. husband and vice versa and brother-in-law vs. brother-in-law. While playwright Dennis Kelly slowly reveals where the frightening truth is Leora Morris keeps upping the ante in this tense family/social drama. Even her scene changes, done in blinking light and shadow, establish bits of business that illuminate relationships. Masterful work.
If anything is obvious it’s that Liam is one dangerous dude. Never mind being covered in blood when the production begins, we soon realize he has a quick, dangerous temper; he is prone to violence especially if a person looks different than he does, people of colour or different backgrounds; and he has a troubled past. As played by Tim Dowler-Coltman, Liam is twitchy, anxious, soft but quick speaking, compelling in his earnestness until cracks appear in his stor. Liam is a master manipulator. Tim Dowler-Coltman is one young actor to watch.
The dynamic between Liam and his sister Helen, played by the always excellent Diana Bentley, is fascinating. Usually Liam comes to Helen for comfort and protection. He is contrite and perhaps even meek if something serious happens to him. But after all those years of protecting Liam against the world Helen knows how he can manipulate her. At one point Bentley as Helen stares down Liam and says with controlled anger, “Don’t manipulate me.” She’s got his number. But then Liam lobs some incriminating information at her and he then gets the upper hand. It’s that quick ping-pong game between them that is most compelling.
Finally Danny, played by a courtly, quiet David Patrick Flemming, seems caught between the two siblings, Liam and Helen. They are the orphans of the title; their parents were killed in a fire; perhaps there is a mystery there too regarding how that happened. Danny does his best to quell ideas that he’s a coward. His wife thinks so. Liam tries to support him until he needs him on his side and then Liam resorts to his usual questionable tactics. In this triangle between Liam, Helen and Danny, Danny is just trying to stay afloat. Often he can never do right by Helen. His frustration is palpable.
The small set is efficiently designed by Brian Dudkiewicz with a sofa on one side of the space and a table and chairs on the other.
A tiny quibble/observation. When Liam arrives, bloody, Helen and Danny are eating dinner. They stop eating when Liam tells them what happened. Later Liam sits where Helen sat hoovering down the food on her plate, every scrap of it, meaning she didn’t eat supper. But it’s Danny who later makes himself a sandwich, saying he didn’t eat supper. Why not? It would suggest that Liam ate it, but Liam’s placement at the table is where Helen sat, not Danny. Hmmm.
Comment. British playwright, Dennis Kelly wrote Orphans in 2009, years before he co-wrote Matilda. On first look these two plays couldn’t be more different. But on closer reflection they are frighteningly similar. Kelly writes about monsters and bullies and people trying to get by in both plays. Liam sees monsters in anyone who looks different than he does and he goes after them with violence. Matilda’s monsters are her mean, bullying parents and she gets even, as any precocious 10 year old kid would, with stinging words.
In Orphans, Liam feels the world outside his comfort zone is full of monsters. In his wilder moments Liam is unafraid to attack anyone he feels is a monster, i.e., anyone who looks different; is an immigrant or refugee. In our unsettled world of travel bans and racist eruptions, Orphans is very prescient.
Produced by the Coal Mine Theatre.
Opened: April 12, 2017.
Closes: April 30, 2017.
Cast: 4, 3 men (1 of which is a boy) and 1 woman.
Running Time: 95 minutes.