“Orphans” – The New Play at the English Theatre of Hamburg

by Uta Buhr
Photos: Stefan Kock

Listen guy, you too are part of the universe
Listen guy, you too are part of the universe

Have you ever heard of Lyle Kessler, the famous American playwright?  If not, you should not hesitate to make his acquaintance by buying a ticket for “Orphans”, which recently premiered at the TET. Written in the mid-eighties and recently revived on Broadway with Alan Baldwin in the role of Harold, it was given standing ovations by New York audiences. Other great actors such as Albert Finney and Al Pacino also fell in love with the wonderful stage figure Harold, who is a gangster and a benefactor at the same time. You don’t believe it.

Just start reading the following text and learn what is going on in the play.

The two brothers Treat and Philip are living in an old totally dilapidated row house in North Philadelphia, the “City of Brotherly Love.” The atmosphere in the apartment is gloomy, a brown wallpaper darkens the room, window-frames and doors are in urgent need of fresh paint, and an overloaded waste bin is squeezed in the corner of this horrid place. Harold Pinter’s “Caretaker” rings a bell. In spite of this depressing environment young Philip (fascinating “circus” child Christopher Buckley) is jumping from one shaky chair to the other, turning somersaults and seemingly enjoying life. As long as his brother Treat, a good-looking athletic criminal (played by Chris Casey), does not turn up. Treat earns his and Philip’s living – both orphaned since the early death of their mother – by stealing valuables from other people whom he meets in the street or on public transport. Treat is by no means a loving brother to Philip. On the contrary, he keeps his small sibling as a hostage in the apartment, forbidding him to leave the house and depriving him of any kind of education. When he finds out that Philip is reading in secret, he loses control and beats him. It is his aim to make Philip totally dependant of him.

I do hope that you haven't been out all by yourself
I do hope that you haven’t been out all by yourself

What a blessing for the poor little guy that Treat brings home a drunken middle-aged man one night. Harold, that’s his name, has met Treat in a bar and agreed to come home with him.

(Alan Booty, swearing like a stevedore, is just Harold incarnate. Chapeau!) Now the good-natured fellow is singing: “If I had the wings of an angel, over these prison walls I would fly. Straight to the arms of me mutter. And there I’d be willing to die.” But Treat’s feelings for the man are far from friendly. He wants to take him as his hostage and ask ransom for his release. He ties Harold’s hand and foot. But Harold, a gangster from Chicago, knows all the tricks and frees himself quite easily. And now something very strange takes place. Instead of bullying the brothers, he starts playing their long-lost father. Harold teaches both rules of good behaviour and tells them that he himself grew up as an orphan. He understands their situation and is willing to help them out of their misery. Little Philip catches on immediately, happy that he finally has somebody who cares for him. But Treat, the wild fighter, is resentful in the beginning. However, by and by he comes to terms with Harold and even accepts his offer to become Harold’s bodyguard. From now on things are changing dramatically in the once dirty household. A new sofa moves in, flowers sit on the table, and the ugly waste bin disappears from the living-room. Harold goes out with Philip, giving him a map of Philadelphia, thus enabling him to find his way back home after a long excursion. The relation between the three men turns out to be a real win-win situation. There is less swearing and hardly any violence in the small family.

Where the hell does this red shoe come from?
Where the hell does this red shoe come from?

But this heaven on earth does not last forever. Harold who has been hiding from his fellow gangsters in the two boys’ home for quite a while goes out one night on “business” and is followed by his former friends whom he has been cheating over a long period of time. As we all know, gangsters never forgive one another as long as big money is concerned. Harold is attacked by one of the criminals without warning and shot in the belly. He returns home,heavily bleeding. Treat and Philip are nursing the wound and trying hard to stop the bleeding.

Will they be able to save Harold’s life? It is up to you, dear reader, to find out whether their efforts will be successful in the end. Go ahead, buy a ticket for “Orphans” and enjoy a wonderful performance at the English Theatre.

The audience enjoyed another “enchanting evening” at the English Theatre with three wonderful actors who gave their best and were given “a big hand” by the spectators.

About the author
Lyle Kessler is a well-known American screenwriter whose most popular play was so far “Orphans”,which premiered on Broadway in the mid-eighties and won a Tony Award In 1985. Further plays include “The Watering Place”, “Possession” and “Gladiator”. Besides his writing activities Lyle Kessler developed the “Imagination Workshop” and works, together with his wife actress Margaret Ladd, with hospitalised psychiatric patients on artistic projects.

“Last performance of “Orphans” on November 5, 2016

Tickets, as usual under telephone number 040 – 227 70 89, online booking


Next premiere “Don’t Lose The Place” by Derek  Benfield on November 17, 2016

Author: Maren Schönfeld

Maren Schönfeld ist Lyrikerin, Journalistin und Lektorin. Sie veröffentlicht Lyrikbände, Sachbücher sowie Artikel. Seit 2018 ist sie die Präsidentin der Auswärtigen Presse und leitet den Verband gemeinsam mit ihren Vorstandskollegen Dr. Manuel Ruoff und Winfried Wöhlke.