All That Orphans Drama and Tom Sturridge is the Breakout Star

It is not all that rare for a two, three or four member ensemble to be completely devoured by one stellar performance. Tracy Letts achieved that feat in this fall's revival of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf on some level.

But seeing Orphans third wheel, Tom Sturridge, churn out the best performance in the classic Lyle Kessler drama lifted my spirits like no other. He wasn't the biggest name on the marquee nor was he the biggest figure of controversy during the pre-opening Orphans drama, also known as "the gift that keeps on giving." Oh sure, he may have called out Patrick Healy during his New York Times interview - which I may or may not have taped up on my mirror - but that was a kiddie game when compared to the Baldwin/LaBeouf Twitter breach of security and subsequent feud o' antagonism, resulting in the latter being replaced by Ben Foster.

But Orphans, now open at the Schoenfeld Theater, is first and foremost a knockout of a show. Regardless of its ridiculous, Smash-esque drama in the lead-up to opening, this brisk, funny and dramatic show puts in the effort to obscure that. And it works because the basis of the show - two orphans kidnap a wealthy business man, their lives change forever, blah blah blah - is sufficient enough to carry the production. This is one of Kessler's best plays and character studys (and arguably his most well-known).

Furthermore, you can never go wrong with Daniel Sullivan as a director. Bitch can just do it all and really knows his craft. Like say, how to coax out fantastic performances from his cast (see: the not-great, but superbly acted Glengarry Glen Ross) and if need be, let the show rest on their shoulders. Sullivan's deft-hand with minimalism is so on-point here and is smart enough to not distract from the book and actor showcase that is Orphans.

Which brings me to the performances, in which we are three for three overall. Alec Baldwin, on the look and styling along, is perfectly cast as Jack Donaghy Harold. Complimenting that is his knack for droll humor and a menacing subtlety. Harold is always a big question mark in terms of motivations, like when he responds to the man holding a gun at him with a job offer and salary. As you do, I guess? Not to mention, his unexplained past that he alludes to never adds up to anything other then...well, he has a past. But Baldwin keeps him human enough to where the holes in his character aren't too prominent and you can enjoy him for what he is.

And while Shia LaBeouf would have probably homerunned the role of Treat, the older sibling-esque figure engaging in thievery to support himself and his brother, Ben Foster is no flake. And man, he really goes balls out by the show's end, no? One minute, he is foaming at the mouth ready to cut a bitch. The next? He can enter a crying jag like his puppy was just shot. His performance and mood swings are not spotless by any means, but it is incredibly ambitious and more right than it is wrong.

But no, Tom Sturridge is the one to watch here. Perfection as Phillip, the mentally-slow, yet weirdly insightful and brilliant shacked up orphan. He is exhilaratingly animated, bouncing off the walls and house, and hilarious to boot with meticulous delivery. His impersonation of a black man during the "bus scenario" exercise - mined for laughs, no worries - is one of the funniest "WTF, this is awesome" moments of the show. But even when mourning the loss of his new pal, a map (no really), or reciting off The Price is Right, we root for our unlikely and plucky quasi-hero of the story and marvel at his childlike innocence.

Orphans' image in the media and theater community may be "that silly argument between those two big stars," which is neither as ridiculously delicious as the "will not die Rebecca" or the off-her-block Julie Taymor jihad (which ended really anti-climatically), but it is a show worth seeing and just as I expected, one of the bright spots of the season. Whether ticket-goers are in their seats to see the type of show the controversy churned out or just for the show itself, its a relief that most, if not all, are probably leaving pleasantly entertained.

Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich

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