life

Laughing through the tears

‘Orphans’ mixes light and dark in the first Edge show of 2014

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The story of “Orphans” examines two down and out brothers in Philadelphia, and the mobster they kidnap.
Courtesy photo
Brothers Treat (Jack Wefso) and Phillip (Christian Mast), left to right, live in Philadelphia and kidnap gangster Harold (Rick Yaconis) in an effort to make some money.
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The Edge Theatre is kicking off its 2014 season with a story that plumbs the tragic-comic depths of siblings, family and desperation.

“Orphans,” written by Lyle Kessler, opens at the theater, 1560 Teller St., on Jan. 17 and runs through Feb. 9. Performances will be Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 6 p.m.

Taking place in Philadelphia in the late 1970s, “Orphans” examines brothers, Treat (Jack Wefso) and Phillip (Christian Mast), who have been on their own since they were young children.

“The older brother (Treat) is basically a street thug, who commits small crimes to keep them going,” said Rick Yaconis, executive artistic director at the theater. “The younger brother (Phillip) stays in the house most of the time because of the way Treat manipulates him.”

Phillip is a little impaired, and so Treat uses that fact to convince him that he is basically allergic to everything in the outside world, Yaconis said.

In an effort to better their circumstances, Treat kidnaps Harold (Yaconis), who it turns out is a notorious Chicago gangster, and also an orphan.

“Harold really sort of takes over their lives, and becomes a kind of father figure to them,” Yaconis said.

After some large-cast productions in 2013, Yaconis said “Orphans” is a return to the theater’s early days.

“This puts us back to focusing on small casts and stories,” he said. “It’s a little more acting intensive this way.”

The show is directed by Robert Kramer, in his fourth outing at The Edge. Kramer has also opened the new season for the past two years at the theater.

“I think this is an amazing story — it’s incredibly well written, and we tried really hard to set it in the proper time and place,” he said.

According to Kramer, one of the things he enjoyed most about “Orphans” was the ability to slow down and give the actors a chance to really get into their characters.

“Some of the most articulate moments are those without dialogue,” he said. “The show moves along at a great pace, and it gives us the time to build these fantastic moments into the script.”

One of the things that was of crucial importance to Kramer was creating an environment that Phillip lives and breathes, since he has never left the house before.

“This place has been his (Phillip’s) entire existence,” he said. “We decided that from the moments the doors open at the theater, he won’t be off the stage. That half-hour before the show starts and audiences are coming in, he’ll be in the environment.”

Yaconis describes the show as a dark comedy, and Kramer said that this reflects not only life, but the best stories.

“Like life, it’s mostly comedic, with some horrible tragedy,” Kramer said. “My favorite pieces are those were you don’t know if it’s a comedy or tragedy, and I think it will be up to the audience to determine what it is. The lens that audience sees it through will give it a lot of laughs on one night, and terrible sadness on another.”

For tickets and more information call 303-232-0363 or visit www.theedgetheater.com.